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Worker shortage puts spotlight on creative hiring

  • 3 min read

It’s no secret that workers are in short supply in agriculture. Despite having posted strong growth in recent years, Canadian agriculture often struggles to match people with positions.

Why is it so hard to hire good folks? Start with the fact that the agriculture industry can be highly seasonal in its need for workers. Add to it that most agriculture jobs are in rural areas, while most Canadians live in cities. 

Looking to new sources to meet hiring needs

The great opportunities and good wages need to be promoted.

Recruiting for agriculture today requires a different way of thinking. Some Canadian producers will need to start targeting workers who are only interested in working part of the year or partnering with employers who have offsetting seasonal patterns. The great opportunities and good wages to be found in agriculture need to be promoted.

Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC) advises that immigrants, young Canadians, women and Indigenous people offer a viable solution to this challenge and bring fresh perspectives and new experiences to the workforce. This is particularly relevant when kids who have grown up on the farm choose a career path that doesn’t include working on the farm. Recruiting people who don’t have farming experience can be an asset, and less limiting.

Creative solutions for seasonal worker shortages

Paul Doef, owner of Doef’s Greenhouses near Lacombe, Alta., had a different challenge when it came to finding workers for his 11-acre greenhouse operation. The highly seasonal nature of the commercial greenhouse business meant he was often re-hiring or re-training new team members after a winter break.

Doef tackled it as a production opportunity rather than a people problem. He changed his business infrastructure to include high-tech lights so the greenhouse could create consistent, year-round production. Doef’s seasonal labour headaches disappeared.

“Now we can use the same crew all year,” he says. “It’s a huge advantage to us to be able to offer our employees year-round employment.”

Promote working in agriculture as a lifestyle

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of CAHRC, explains that although Canadian producers are feeling the labour pinch now, the growth of the agriculture industry has resulted in a wide range of opportunities for workers.

“The sky is the limit for this industry,” she says. “It all comes down to having enough workers to ensure businesses can meet their production targets or expand their operation to meet new business demands as the industry grows.”

In MacDonald-Dewhirst’s view, the industry must focus on communicating why agriculture is such a great place to work. She points to trends that spell renewed interest in agriculture, such as the local food movement and the development of the “gig economy” in which workers cherish short-term work assignments.

While earlier generations tended to love permanent, full-time jobs with a singular career trajectory, more people today want something that’s flexible, seasonal and requires no long-term commitment.

“Research is clear that people are looking for something new and different,” MacDonald-Dewhirst notes. “That can work to our advantage in this industry. We need to ensure that people know the agriculture and food industry is open for business, is hiring and is a really interesting place to work.”

Quick tips that will make a difference

  • Be willing to hire someone who may not have agricultural experience but does have the right attitude
  • Seek to hire outside of traditional agricultural labour sources
  • Adjust production to offer year-round employment
  • Promote the advantages of working in agriculture and a career in ag as a lifestyle 

From an AgriSuccess article by Kieran Brett.