Employers and students alike applaud wage subsidy program

March 22, 2024

Fulfilling the need for agriculture labour 

In the agriculture industry, whether you are a primary producer, agriculture-related business or industry organization, finding a reliable supply of labour can be more than challenging. That is why the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) started investigating the potential of involving underrepresented groups, like young Canadians, to fill the labour gap in agriculture-related fields. 

The result was Growing Opportunities, a CAHRC initiative funded by the Government of Canada through Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) that connects employers, post-secondary institutions and students. The goal of the program is to establish sustainable working relationships between these groups to be able to meet future labour demands for agriculture. At the same time, it focuses on highlighting agricultural jobs with students in a wide range of disciplines who may not have considered a career in agriculture.

We talked with two students and their corresponding employers about the program.

Making the connection between farming and food production

Kendall Trytten never thought she would be interested in a career in agriculture. She didn’t grow up on a farm and neither did her parents. But Trytten, now a second-year student at the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, found her niche. 

“I’m very interested in environmental science and agriculture has lots of ties to the environment. It’s also a growing industry and there’s no shortage of work,” comments Trytten.

Trytten’s interest in agriculture was cemented by her job in the summer of 2023 with Delage Farms at Indian Head, Saskatchewan, a family-owned and operated farm that grows wheat, canola and lentils. During her four months with Delage, Trytten’s responsibilities involved scouting crops for insects and disease, along with social media and event planning for the farm. 

Her employer first decided to sign up for the program after researching the initiative online.

“It was an easy decision,” says Janel Delage, Vice President of Delage Farms. “The wage subsidy covers a good portion of student wages. It also gave me a chance to help develop young people – and mentor potential employees we can hire when they’re done school.” 

The fact is that being an outsider may have actually been an advantage for Trytten. 

“I think I was able to bring something to the job that someone familiar with agriculture might not have,” she comments. I had a whole different perspective because I had no background in the industry.”

She continues, “And from the practical side, I learned a lot about my chosen field of agriculture in that I had the opportunity to experience the entire growing season from start to finish. When I got there, I knew nothing about lentils, canola or wheat, but by the end of it, I was operating a combine all by myself! This year, I can actually relate what I learned at the farm to what I’m learning in class.”

And the impact beyond the farm gate?

“When people understand what happens on a farm, it gives them practical knowledge of how food production works,” says Janel Delage. This becomes more and more important as there are fewer people who grow up on farms. They can understand where a loaf of bread comes from and why we do what we do.”

Providing unexpected opportunities

Growing up in the greater Toronto area, Isabelle Weigel-Mohammed was a city kid who never thought she’d work in agriculture. But all that changed in 2022. 

Weigel-Mohamed was a psychology student in the co-op program at the University of Waterloo when she applied for a job with Korotu Technology, a sustainable technology startup focused on natural climate solutions. Through Growing Opportunities, Korotu applied for the Student Wage Subsidy Program (SWPP) to be able to hire a student with Weigel-Mohamed’s qualifications.

“Our mission is to be able to provide the technology to help key stakeholders better understand, monitor and support natural climate solutions for forests, wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands,” says Sean Rudd, Founder and CEO of Korotu Technoloy. “What we hired Isabelle for was to help us find out from a psychological perspective why some farmers adopt sustainable technologies and why others don’t.”

In turn, Weigel-Mohammed’s research helped her understand the challenges involved in farming sustainably. 

“What became crystal clear to me is that many farmers are seriously making changes to how they farm to become more sustainable,” states Weigel-Mohamed. “There’s a lot of pressure for farmers to be at the forefront of environmental change. Farming is so difficult with all the costs involved for inputs, like fuel, seed, etc., but then they’ve got the added challenge of climate change on top of that.” 

“It made me realize that there are so many options for young people who are interested in the environment and sustainable agriculture practices to have an influence on the future of food production,” she adds.

Through SWPP, Korotu has been able to hire more than 10 students since they first applied for funding in 2021. Those students have mostly come from disciplines not usually associated with agriculture: psychology as in Weigel-Mohammed’s case, as well as software engineering and geography. In fact, most of the students they have hired do not have an agriculture background or any agriculture experience. 

“The talent and enthusiasm coming out of our universities today is fantastic,” says Rudd. “A lot of the students we talk with are really interested in the environment and are well informed about climate change and social issues. For many of them it’s a surprise to be able to take their technical skills and apply them in a real world setting to an area like agriculture. This program makes it financially more feasible to hire students who really want to make a difference.”

Contributing to a dynamic and resilient industry

Since the Fall of 2021, 216 employers benefitted from 533 student placements through 107 post-secondary institutions through SWPP. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both employers and students – and CAHRC only expects those numbers to grow.

“The relationships we have fostered between stakeholder groups has really generated awareness as to how fascinating and innovative the agriculture industry is,” comments Jennifer Wright, CAHRC Executive Director. “With the Government of Canada’s help, over the past year we’ve put over a million dollars into the industry in the form of subsidies. And the engagement with employers has been fantastic. They really want this – and students do too.”

Initiatives like the Growing Opportunities SWPP help employers maintain a viable workforce, attract new talent to the field, and build understanding and awareness of potential Ag careers. Through the efforts of CAHRC and the support of their partners, huge strides are being made to ensure a healthy future for agriculture across Canada.

For more information

For more information on the Growing Opportunities Work Placement Program, see the CAHRC website or contact Megan Lockhart, AgriTalent Project Coordinator at mlockhart@cahrc-ccrha.ca.