Labour gap in Canadian ag growing

Labour gap in Canadian ag growing
Feb 20, 2024

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council estimates more than 100,000 job vacancies by 2030

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The number of Canadians needed to fulfill vacant positions in the country’s ag industry is growing.

A new report from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) titled Sowing Seeds of Change estimates that by 2030, Canada’s agriculture sector will be short about 101,000 people.

For context, that’s roughly the populations of Red Deer, Alta., or Clarington, Ont., as reported in the 2021 census.

This kind of data is important to help the industry understand where the gaps are and how to address them.

“Research like this is critical to understand the project the current labour needs of the sector, as we collectively look to advance measures that will mitigate the impacts of these vacancies,” the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) told in an emailed statement.

The CAHRC’s report cites multiple reasons for the forecasted labour shortage.

One is looming retirements.

“Canada’s agriculture industries will see over 85,300 retirements over the next 8 years, which is almost 30 per cent of the current Canadian workforce in the sector,” the report says.

Another challenge is the struggle to attract domestic workers.

More than 1/3 of surveyed industry members reported receiving no applications from Canadians during hiring season. And almost 35 per cent of respondents indicated no Canadians applied for work at their farm or business.

This is why Canadian ag relies heavily on temporary foreign workers.

In the horticulture sector, for example, temporary foreign workers are expected to fill almost 80 per cent of the labour gaps, the report says.

A third hurdle is wages and overall retention.

In the grain industry, for example, workers make about $25 per hour. But employees aren’t signing up because of the nature of the work.

“Employers in grain and oilseed struggle with recruiting because of their rural location, seasonal hours and manual labour needs,” the CAHRC says. “Ultimately grain and oilseed vacancies come at a great cost, considering the high sales per worker.”

In terms of solutions, multiple are available to the Canadian ag sector.

One is to promote the variety of career opportunities in agriculture.

“Comon perceptions of agriculture tend to be outdated and often miss the extent to which innovation and technology have created and transformed numerous occupations in the sector,” the report says.

Another idea for industry employers is to use all available tools.

Wages may not be the only important part of a potential employee’s expectations.

“Offering other benefits such as flexibility, benefits packages and opportunities for career advancement can be vital in attracting and retaining workers,” the CAHRC wrote.

A third potential way for the ag industry to address labour gaps is to take advantage the growing population.

Multiple stakeholders working together could help attract immigrants to rural communities and work in the ag sector.

“A combined effort between government, placement agencies and farm operators is needed to find individuals with relevant skills and experience and encourage them to settle in rural communities where there is agriculture work,” the CAHRC’s report says.

The CFA is working with multiple partners on the National Workforce Strategy for Agriculture and Food and Beverage Manufacturing.

“The strategy looks to mitigate current labour needs through a multi-faceted approach including advancements in automation and technology, while also attracting more people to the sector by building awareness, improving skills development and ensuring there are clear opportunities and pathways to bring new Canadians into the industry,” the CFA said.

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