Canada investing in agri-food careers in wake of labour crunch

Amid the labour shortage that has plagued food production and processing, the governments of Canada and Ontario have announced they are investing up to $4 million to promote agri-food careers.

A release says the investment will “help build a strong and competitive agri-food workforce that will ensure people can continue to access the safe and healthy food grown and made in Ontario”.

Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3-billion commitment by Canada’s governments to support Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sectors, the new Ontario Agri-Careers Support Initiative will support pilot projects that help the sector attract, support, and retain workers by developing solutions that enable businesses to better meet the needs of employees.

Pilot projects may be eligible for up to 70 per cent of approved expenses to a maximum of $80,000 for individual businesses, or up to $200,000 for a collaboration between two or more businesses.

The new Ontario Agri-Careers Support will provide funding support for pilot projects undertaken by food processing businesses with more than 100 employees.

The data collected from these pilots will be compiled into a report by the Agricultural Adaptation Council, and shared with Ontario agri-food processors to help identify successful programs that may be utilized in their individual operations with the aim to address long-term labour challenges.

The Ontario Agri-Careers Support Initiative builds on the $1.5 million intake announced last October and the $22 million Agri-tech Innovation cost-share program launched last April, and is part of the province’s agri-food labour support to build a competitive and skilled agri-food workforce.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) estimates there will be an agri-food workforce shortfall of 123,000 by 2029 in Canada. Ontario is expected to represent the largest share of the shortfall.

Earlier in 2022, a group of 10 associations representing the food and beverage processing sector called on the federal government to create an “emergency” temporary foreign workers program to address the chronic labour shortages still being seen in the sector.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to address the labour challenges in our agri-food sector,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “We are supporting projects that will make it easier for workers to start and continue their careers in the agri-food sector. These projects will help provide concrete solutions to ensure the sector have the workers they need to keep the province’s food supply chain safe and strong.”

“As the province’s largest manufacturing sector by employment, it’s vital that the food and beverage processing sector continues to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce,” said Chris Conway, CEO of Food and Beverage Ontario. “By placing an even stronger priority on the needs of the industry’s workforce, we can continue to deliver quality food to people in Ontario and around the globe.”

Applications for the new cost-share intake will be accepted starting on March 3, 2022. Approved projects must be completed by September 30, 2022.