Tackling agriculture's labour shortage requires looking "outside the circle"

In a survey of over 1,300 Canadian farm employers, 47 per cent say they can not fulfill their labour needs, and one in three respondents said they receive zero Canadian applicants when they post an available job. With approximately 37 per cent of the workforce expected to retire in the next 10 years, agriculture’s labour shortage challenges are very real.

According to Debra Hauer, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), part of the challenge in finding help is that much of the industry can no longer rely on workers from “inside the circle.”

“People have fewer number of kids, farms are much larger than they used to be, there aren’t as many neighbour kids from down the road who are interested in working on the farm, and the supply of recently retired farmers who would be interested in working seasonally on farms, for example – they’re there, but there’s getting to be fewer of them as well too.

“So we need to be looking outside of our normal source of pools of where we get our workers from.”

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The role of international workers

According to the CAHRC, one in every six positions in the Canadian AgriWorkforce is filled by an international worker, and from 2014 to 2017, the number of jobs filled rose from almost 45,600 to nearly 60,000.

“Immigration could be a very large opportunity for farm businesses and also agri-businesses,” says Hauer.

But in order to attract people to an operation, farm employers should talk about things “other than pay,” suggests Hauer, like a dedicated parcel of land for employees to garden, a unique team environment, and/or a great local town (which, if they haven’t already, should update their websites to also be welcoming of newcomers).

Retaining, after retention

“It’s always easier to keep somebody than it is to keep on looking for new people all the time,” says Hauer. “Our surveys of employees indicate that people will stay if they feel that they’re valued, and that they love the job.”

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