When people think of jobs in primary agriculture they often think of farm labourers and mechanics. But many related fields that are essential to farm operations aren’t as universally connected, such as veterinarian or truck driver, says Jade Reeve, a project manager with Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).
Reeve is working on a project called Agricultural Career Pathways. This project follows on from the Identifying On Farm Occupations project, which CAHRC completed last year. It was a Canada-wide project surveying five focus groups, comprised of farm operations across 10 primary production types. Its goal was to identify the many farm occupations that exist in primary agriculture and the skills and knowledge they require.
What the project discovered was that, as farm sizes increase, so do the depth and scope of on farm occupations and the skills required to perform them. An occupational matrix was produced which plots those skills and knowledge requirements across the different production groups and in varying degrees from entry level through to CEO level.
Across the different commodity types there were certain occupations that were consistent and interchangeable to all. General farm workers with some entry level knowledge and lead hands with some supervisory experience, as well as farm managers were positions that most farm employers are looking for.
The project also demonstrated that the skills are sought by agri-business are the same skills that farm operators are looking for in their employees. Technological and managerial skills top the list. To be an owner/operator of modern a farm operation requires considerable managerial skills, and it is not universally recognised that management is a very important component of an agricultural producer’s job,” says Debra Hauer, project manager who worked closely on the Identifying On Farm Occupations Project at CAHRC.
Soft skills are just as important as technical knowledge to farm employers, who are finding challenges in recruiting staff, as traditional sources of farm employees, like family, neighbours and community members disappear. “A lot of those surveyed said that it really didn’t matter what the skills were as long as the people had the right attitude, that they were interested in the farm and willing to learn,” says Hauer. “It’s increasingly difficult to find people outside of the community with the interest and aptitude and some basic skills who want to come to the farm operation.”
It’s also not easy for farmers to actively recruit employees. They don’t have the same resources or reach as agri-businesses and aren’t always able to access the labour market as successfully. Similarly, students and others considering agricultural careers are often missing the message about opportunities that exist in production farming. CAHRC is hoping to bridge that gap with its Agricultural Career Pathways project, that will take the information from the Identifying On Farm Occupations study and develop an interactive online tool that will bring together all the resources that prospective farm employees need to prepare for and access jobs in primary agriculture, including information about the scope and type of positions that are out there, the skills and training they require and where to get it.
Even if their ultimate goal is to get an education and return to the farm, some young people find they may have to wait to farm full time, because of their family’s succession plan or other reasons. In these cases it’s a good idea to choose courses that give them more flexible options for off-farm employment in the meantime, says Erika Osmundson of AgCareers.com. “We encourage students, even if they want to go back and farm, that they at least go in for a skilled trade certificate so that they have got some different qualifications to bring back to their farming operation and additional qualifications if they were ever to need to go and find additional employment,” she says.
Other young farmers are thinking more entrepreneurially, thanks to some educational programs that equip them to identify additional self-employment opportunities. “If you want to excel quickly then you have to think outside of the box because if you are doing what everyone else is doing you are not going to have an advantage,” says Nick Boundy, a young farmer who isn’t just talking the talk. Boundy, graduated from the Agribusiness Diploma Program at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba in 2010, originally intended to seek an off-farm job in agronomy to help keep him on the family farm near Boissevain. But a compulsory project, which required him to research and write a comprehensive business plan for an ag-related enterprise of his choice, presented him with another idea. After graduation Boundy decided to start a mobile seed cleaning business similar to the one upon which his project had been based.
As it turned out his industry mentor for the business plan, Laurie Clarke, was ready to retire from the business and sold it to Boundy, who had not only a ready-made customer base but also a sound understanding, thanks to the business plan exercise, of how the business operated and its potential.
The University of Manitoba’s two-year diploma program also attracts many students who want to farm, but a lot of them end up in agri-business, often in the sales and service areas, at least as an adjunct career, says Michele Rogalsky, director of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences.
But it’s not just farm youth that are interested in farming for themselves. Farming is also attracting a growing group of mid-life professionals looking at a lifestyle change, says Rogalsky. “We are seeing more individuals looking to have a smaller operation where they could farm in semi-retirement or even just start farming on a small scale. They are often interested in organic production or smaller livestock.”
It seems that opportunities in or associated with primary agriculture are as diverse as the environmental, social and economic issues that shape it.For more information on the Identifying On Farm Occupations report and matrix go to: www.cahrc-ccrha.ca/labour-employment/identifying-farm-occupations. †