Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council labour market forecast predicts growing shortages across agricultural industries

February 28, 2024

Ottawa, ON - Recent research examining worker shortages throughout Canada’s agricultural industry is projecting that the fruit and vegetable industry will bear the brunt of the domestic labour gap and could be required to fill more than 35,000 jobs during its peak season by 2030.

This finding, published in the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council’s (CAHRC) latest labour market report, Sowing Seeds of Change , would account for 35 per cent of the peak domestic labour gap heading into the next decade. The report provides an analysis of present-day labour market challenges as well as what is anticipated for 2030. This includes sector and industry vacancy rates, an assessment of the cost of labour shortages and insight into recruitment and retention challenges.

Other industry-specific projections on the anticipated peak domestic labour gap include dairy (5,000), poultry and egg (2,420), beef (2,600), swine (3,080), aquaculture (285), grain and oilseed (3,680), greenhouse (34,940), sheep and goat (240) and agricultural support services (1,570).

“These numbers emphasize what as a sector we continue to know: we must take action for agriculture to be able to attract and retain workers in Canada,” said Jennifer Wright, executive director of CAHRC. “Solving the labour and skill gap issue across all industry groups might not be easy, but it is essential to the sustainability of the sector and Canada’s ability to feed families here at home and abroad.”

The peak domestic labour gap is defined as the number of workers a sector needs but is not able to find in Canada. This measurement does not account for the foreign workers agriculture relies on to fill the current workforce, who in 2022 represented 17 per cent of the agricultural workforce. Still, the report finds that even if Canada continues to depend on foreign workers, filling an anticipated 40 per cent of jobs in 2030, there would still be 22,200 vacant positions across all industry sectors.

The national report notes that agriculture, with its aging population, is expected to experience retirements by 2030, which would amount to a loss of 30 per cent of its current workforce. Among those retirements, the tree fruit and vine, grain and oilseed, and beef industries are anticipated to have the largest share due to their older age profiles and occupational make-up.

Some of the ways the research recommends that Canadian agriculture grow its workforce include: focusing on the opportunity that immigration presents, addressing infrastructure needs, educating the public to improve perceptions of agriculture, developing and updating HR management practices and leveraging new technology and automation.

This labour market forecast will serve as a supporting document for CAHRC’s National Workforce Strategic Plan (NWSP). The NWSP exists as a national framework to address labour shortages and skill gaps throughout the sector. To date, more than 100 stakeholders, including primary producers, food and beverage manufacturers, educational institutions, producer groups, industry associations and government officials, have participated in the development of this strategic plan.

This research and its publication were made possible through Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) Growing the Agriculture Workforce of the Future: Cultivating Canada’s Post-Pandemic Recovery initiative. This funding is part the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Workforce Solutions Programs, which helps key sectors of the economy implement solutions to address their current and emerging workforce needs. For in-depth information on specific industry statistics, a number of factsheets with a data breakdown can be found here.

Key Highlights at a Glance

In 2022:
•    Supply-managed sectors struggled less than other sectors to find workers: 26 per cent of employers in poultry and egg, and 38 per cent in dairy were unable to find all the workers they required in 2022, compared to a 44 per cent average for the entire sector.

•     More than half of employers in the beef and swine industries were unable to find all the workers they needed and 47 per cent of employers in these industries identified the lack of experienced applicants as an obstacle to recruitment.

•    The aquaculture industry – consisting of businesses primarily engaged in farm-raising aquatic animals and plants – saw 31 per cent of employers unable to hire all the workers they required in 2022.

•    Employers in grain and oilseed saw a vacancy rate of 7 per cent. This is lower than other industries in agriculture; however, grain and oilseed vacancies come at a great cost, considering the high sales per worker.

•    Fifty-six per cent of employers in support services experienced a labour shortage in 2022, a figure surpassing the 44 per cent across the entire sector, while 78 per cent reported lost sales as a direct consequence of their vacancies, a figure notably higher than the 53 per cent observed across the entire agriculture sector.

•    Sales lost from the agriculture sector in 2022 because of worker vacancies amounted to $3.5 billion.

•    Common barriers such as remote locations, seasonality and manual labour make recruitment challenging. Employers also expressed receiving a lack of experienced and qualified applicants.

•    Still, in 2022, the Canadian agriculture sector generated $38.8 billion in GDP and $92.8 billion in agricultural and processed food exports.


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