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Sharpen your HR skills to solve farm labour shortages

  • 2.5 min read

Workforce shortages take a toll on the farm. According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, the economic impact of not having workers on Canadian farms almost doubled in four years, increasing from $1.5 billion in lost sales in 2014 to $2.9 billion in 2018.

When CAHRC released its Labour Market Forecast to 2029 last year, it reported that over 47 per cent of farm employers surveyed said they could not fill their labour needs. Greater than one third said they did not receive any Canadian applicants when they posted an available job. The situation is not forecasted to improve, with approximately 37 per cent of the workforce expected to retire in the next 10 years.

Better human resource management

Debra Hauer, CAHRC’s manager of labour market information, says there are solutions to the labour shortage, including sharpening HR management on the farm. 

There are solutions to the Canadian agriculture labour market shortage, including sharpening HR management on the farm.

“It’s hard to find people, so once they find them, they want to keep them,” Hauer says. “Farmers are becoming more skilled in HR and treating employees well so they will stay.”

There are tools to help. For example, CAHRC developed agriculture-specific HR tools designed specifically to support modern farm operations to manage their workforce. It also offers Agri Skills, online and in-person training programs, and the Agri HR Toolkit, an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business.

Other solutions

Focusing on untapped potential within Canada, such as encouraging employees from other sectors with transferable skills to find a career in agriculture, as well as looking outside the domestic workforce will also help. Canada’s three-year agri-food immigration pilot  program, launched in July 2019, is one initiative underway to help fill labour shortages, particularly in meat processing and mushroom production.

A New Brunswick approach

In New Brunswick, nearly three out of every five farmers are over the age of 55 and most expect to retire in the next decade. To address the situation, the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick, provincial government and other partners are developing a workforce strategy for the province’s agriculture sector.

One of the first steps is surveying farmers to assess their challenges with workforce recruitment and retention. AANB president Christian Michaud says survey responses will assist in the development of the strategy.

“This is not just another survey to get their opinions,” Michaud says. “The results of this survey will be used to craft specific strategies meant to help address workforce shortages now and into the future.”

Bottom line

While workforce shortages in agriculture continue to grow, industry is working to find solutions. Ag-specific resources are available, such as online information and templates, as well as recruitment efforts to bring workers from other industries. On the farm, experts say the use of sharp HR skills helps retain employees, creating an environment where employees don't want to leave.

Article by: Trudy Kelly Forsythe