Strengthening the agriculture workforce one student at a time

March 26, 2024

The growing agricultural crisis


No other sector in Canada faces as many labour challenges as agriculture. Two out of five employers struggle to find the workers they need. The scarcity in labour is made even more difficult by the inability to attract younger workers, retirements of workers from the Baby Boomer generation, and retention challenges – all against a backdrop of tight labour markets and high inflation. 


And this problem is expected to continue well into the future. It’s daunting.


To ensure a healthy future for agriculture in Canada, it’s urgent that the agriculture industry find and implement solutions to the growing workforce crisis. That’s where the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) comes in. 

Established in 2007, CARHC has been studying this problem to determine where possible solutions might lie. A not-for-profit organization focused on addressing workforce and human resource issues facing agricultural businesses across Canada, CAHRC conducts labour market research, skills analysis and develops human resources tools and resources for employers.  


Engaging youth: challenges and solutions


CAHRC is working with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Food and Beverage Canada to find solutions to the agricultural labour shortage. One very important group they have identified as having potential for easing the labour issue is youth. 


There’s no doubt that young people can help offset the labour gap. However, the reality is that these days very few people grow up on farms. In fact, it’s more likely they have never set foot in a barn or a canola field. How would they know anything about agriculture or the career opportunities in this field of work? Why would they even be interested in agriculture, especially given the belief that agriculture consists only of labour-intensive and mundane farmwork?


The reality check for students who come from outside the agriculture industry is that these jobs involve much more than manual labour and boring, repetitive tasks. Agriculture work is often technical, challenging, rewarding and inspiring.


Growing Opportunities, a CAHRC initiative connects employers, post-secondary institutions and students, sets out to provide students with employment in agriculture-related jobs. Its goal is to establish sustainable working relationships between these groups to be able to meet future demands for agricultural labour. Since the Fall of 2021, 216 employers benefitted from 533 student placements through 107 post-secondary institutions through the Student Wage Subsidy Program (SWPP). The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both employers and students – and CAHRC only expects the number of participants to grow.


Giving employers a leg up and uncovering student opportunities


The truth is that the more students are exposed to agriculture, the more likely they are to consider agriculture as a career. In applying for the student wage subsidy, employers must be willing to hire students from both agricultural and non-agricultural backgrounds. This ultimately means that a more diverse range of young people will experience firsthand what food production involves, along with just how dynamic and interesting the industry is.

There are many jobs in the agriculture sector that might not be considered agriculture in the purest sense. But just think about it, given the nature of modern farming, students studying in fields like engineering, biological sciences, information technology, financial management – and even psychology and human resources – have a future in agriculture. Not to mention the heightened interest that youth have in sustainability and climate issues, which are increasingly becoming part of the agriculture agenda. 

Another advantage of Growing Opportunities is that it’s just as flexible in terms of the employers they accept into the program. It’s not just farms and ranches that have taken advantage of the wage subsidy program, but also aquaculture enterprises, farm media companies, climate change solutions startups and youth development programs. As long as the company can prove a connection with agriculture, they’re eligible for SWPP.

On a more practical note, there’s the economics: the wage subsidy itself. Depending on the number of students and type of students hired, employers can expect to have 50-70% of their wages covered through the program, which goes a long way towards hiring students a lot more affordable. SWPP also provides opportunities for employers to mentor students and find potential future employees.


For students, there’s the learning and growing, and hands-on work that they can apply to their studies, along with financial compensation that is beyond what a restaurant or golf course could pay. It can help them better understand what is involved in food production and they can meet real farmers in the process – as well as be exposed to some very exciting career opportunities!


Supporting and strengthening a growing industry


Canadian Agriculture will continue to grow and evolve. It remains a key driver of the Canadian economy, contributing $143.8 billion in 2022 to Canada’s GDP and providing one in nine jobs. With the challenges of climate change on our hands, welcoming new and creative perspectives, and harnessing the enthusiasm and commitment of youth is essential. Added to that is the challenge of being able to feed the ever-increasing number of Canadians, along with a growing world population that relies on Canadian agricultural products. 


The conclusion? Creating a sustainable supply of labour is the only way forward for the agriculture industry, and engaging young Canadians is part of the solution. Initiatives like Growing Opportunities help employers maintain a viable workforce, attract new talent to the agriculture 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