N.S. farmworkers to be recognized as tradespeople

N.S. farmworkers to be recognized as tradespeople
Feb 18, 2022

The industry needs journeypeople and apprentices

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Nova Scotia is taking steps to recognize farmworkers in the province as registered tradespeople similar to electricians and others.

The new trade would designate people as Farm Technicians after completing a program at Dalhousie University.

The graduates will be able to perform multiple tasks, including:

  • Using multiple pieces of ag equipment
  • Engaging in soil and nutrient management, crop management and integrated pest management
  • Caring for and feeding livestock
  • Using technologies including robots and programmable logic controllers

Apprentices will also be required to complete two levels of training, including 3,600 hours of on-the-job hours.

When the apprentice has his or her hours signed off by a journeyperson, he or she can take the certification exam.

Work on this started in January 2019 when the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency and the province’s ag industry developed a trade advisory committee to gather data and communicate with the minister of department of labour and advanced education on establishing a farm technician apprenticeship program.

“Industry identified a need to provide diverse training and certification for farm workers,” Marjorie Davison, CEO of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, told Farms.com.

To get apprentices, however, the industry needs journeypeople.

Starting on Feb. 21 until March 28, the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency and Dalhousie University are offering a free five-week, 90-hour refresher course for experienced producers (someone with 5,400 hours or more of farm work experience).

Once a farmer completes the refresher course, he or she will be able to take the Farm Technician certification exam.

Once he or she passes the exam, they are considered journeypeople, Davison said.

“That will enable them to start taking on apprentices,” she said. “And it should provide support for those farms to continue to develop a workforce.”

Members of Nova Scotia’s ag community participated in developing the curriculum for the farm technician program.

Andy Vermeulen, whose 450-acre farm in Canning, N.S. produces fruit and vegetables, was among them.

His farm relies on skilled workers.

“I need to have people who know how to pick,” he told Farms.com. “We spend a lot time doing calibration with computers and how to monitor that information. Many people might think anyone can do those jobs, but that’s not the case.”

The ag sector in Nova Scotia is expected to face challenges in the years to come.

In 2025, the industry will need 11,300 workers. Almost 30 per cent of the workforce will be lost due to retirement, putting about 3,500 jobs at risk, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council says.

Certified farm technician training will help fill those gaps, Vermeulen said.

“It’s important to me as a farmer to be able to hire someone who has the skills necessary to do the work I need them to do,” he said. “Someone can come to the farm with a great resume but until I see them working, I don’t know what I’m getting. This farm technician training is designed for people to see this kind of work as a career.”

Nova Scotia isn’t the first province in Canada to certify farm technicians as tradespeople.

Prince Edward Island started doing so in 2009, also with the help of Dalhousie University.

If more places in Canada follow suit, it could lead to a national designation for a Farm Technician, Davison said.

“P.E.I. has it, we have it and we understand New Brunswick is interested as well,” she said. “If five (provinces or territories) designate is as a trade, we can bring it forward to become a national trade and have farm technician designated as a red seal trade.”

Any Nova Scotia farmers interested in becoming journeypeople can contact Michelle Turner with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency at 902-679-4303 or Michelle.Turner@novascotia.ca.

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