Banner for Feds Want Your Help to Resolve the Canadian Ag Labour Shortage

On June 27, 2022, the Government of Canada launched consultations to seek input for its National Agricultural Labour Strategy.

Canada is experiencing a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers within our mighty agricultural sector that plays a huge role in our country’s critical infrastructure, and is essential to the health and well-being of all Canadians.

How do we convince people that the world of Canadian ag is a meaningful and rewarding career choice?

With the launching of the National Agricultural Labour Strategy— running online from June 27, 2022, through September 28, 2022—Canada and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau hope to drive input to provide the means to form resolution, both in the long and short term.

“As everyone is looking to Canada to increase its contribution to global food security, our agriculture and agri-food sector is facing a severe labour shortage that prevents it from reaching its full potential,” said The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

“I encourage all stakeholders to take part in these consultations, through which our government wishes to foster the significant engagement of the industry and ensure that together we put in place effective and sustainable solutions.”

A recent Harris Poll commissioned on behalf of Express Employment Professionals noted that 26 percent of Canadian companies said they have hired employees they would not have hired if there were adequate employees available.

This is the new Canadian economy—rife with labour shortages and high employee turnover, and having to be satisfied with imperfect labour solutions.

It’s not a “pandemic” issue—at least not anymore, right? During the worst of the pandemic, there were employable personnel reluctant to seek employment owing to fears of Covid-19, but after over two years of economic strife, people needed money to feed themselves and family—so back to work they went.

Except they didn’t.

Statistics Canada noted that as of Q4 2021, there were 915,500 unfilled positions—up by 63 percent compared to the same point in 2020.

The agency also noted that vacant jobs are remaining vacant for a longer period, with nearly half of all job vacancies unfilled for 60 days.

The employment sectors, per Stats Canada, that felt the brunt of labour shortages more than anything else as of Q4 2021—even with wage bumps—where the jobs where close contact with strangers was always at the forefront, such as restaurant and grocery workers, nurses, and retail salespeople.

Despite all the hooting, hollering, and lamenting, ag sector workers didn’t even merit the ignominious Top 10—though that still doesn’t mean we should be ignoring the drain of labour in our labour force.

So where did all the willing workers go?

That’s what the National Agricultural Labour Strategy wants to determine and resolve.

Within the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector—lumped together by Statistics Canada—there is an expected labour shortage of 31.9 percent; and expected vacant positions to increase by 6.7 percent. These numbers are based on respondents asked from April 1 to May 6, 2022, of their expectations on various obstacles over the next three months—which means this range could be from April 1 through to August 6, 2022.

Not to play spoiler here, but one answer to the why, is that we are aging out.

Per Statistics Canada, between the years 2022 and 2021, the population of Canada of those aged 65+ increased from 14.4 percent to 18.5 percent. If we assume that the 4.1 percent was not made up entirely by an increase in babies being born, it implies that there are fewer working-age adults available on the job market.

And while the labour shortage isn’t all due to the pandemic, it has played a role in the current labour situation—just not in a way most think.

Due to nations everywhere wishing to avoid the spread of the disease, borders around the world were shut to essential travel only. Little to no immigration.

Excluding aboriginal peoples, the population of North America owes much of its growth to immigration, and those immigrants staying and having children.

Regardless of whether immigration would have rectified Canada’s labour shortage within the ag sector, it has played a role in a lack of employment fulfillment.

On June 23, 2022, Statistics Canada released its report: Within Analysis on labour challenges in Canada, second quarter of 2022, in which it noted a tightening of the labour market and increased labour demand.

The report said: “This has been characterized by record low unemployment rates and record high labour force participation among those in the core working ages of 25 to 54. Job vacancies rose to record levels in March 2022, with employers actively seeking to fill over one million (1,012,900) vacant positions across Canada. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate remains at a record low, edging down by 0.1% to 5.1% in May.”

Within the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector, 27.7 percent of businesses saw recruiting skilled employees as the challenge, while 22.4 percent saw retaining skilled employees the issue.

Focus of the National Agricultural Labour Strategy will include:

  • Automation and Technology use and supplementation;
  • Targeted skills development and training;
  • Employment incentives and best practices;
  • Improved working (and where applicable, living) conditions and benefits, and;
  • Programs to recruit and retain workers.

With any luck, the National Agricultural Labour Strategy engagement process will help us find the solutions we need—it’s never just one answer—and that we have the wherewithal to do what is necessary to make it happen quickly and effectively.

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