The University of Guelph continues to increase enrolment in its agriculture programs, but graduates will continue to find four jobs available for each of them.
The Ontario Agriculture College (OAC), at the university has boosted spots in its agriculture programs by 30 per cent since 2012 and by 50 per cent in its Bachelor of Science in Agriculture program.
However, in the five years since the university last did a similar survey, respondents in agriculture and food processing say they have even more trouble filling jobs in the sector than they did five years ago – 67 per cent of agriculture companies and 51 per cent of food companies report difficulties in recruiting qualified workers. That compares to 40 per cent of agriculture and 28 per cent of food companies reporting similar challenges in 2012.
Rene Van Acker, dean of OAC, says the data explains the strong job market that OAC graduates find when they finish their degrees and diplomas.
“It is relatively easy for the vast majority of our graduates. We don’t really have to guide them at all. They get into a stream of employment in the sector right from the get go.”
Most OAC students go through a co-op program that allows them to work in the sector for a period during school. That period allows the students to create valuable networks even before they finish college or university, says Van Acker, and the survey shows the industry appreciates the practical knowledge gained during the co-op programs.
The survey also shows that the problem will likely to continue to grow, with 56 per cent of agriculture and 44 per cent of food respondents saying they will increase hiring in the next five years.
Van Acker says the university takes seriously its responsibility to educate enough students for the sector, including increasing enrollment and creating programs to educate students the industry needs.
That’s why it’s introducing a new degree program, a Bachelor of Food Industry Management, a cross between a food science and food management program, with the first intake of students next fall.
The challenge is to continue to grow the number of high school graduates willing to apply to agriculture programs.
“It is challenging because there are perceptions, or it could be the invisibility of the sector,” says Van Acker. Students coming from outside of an agriculture background are the toughest to convince. “They might very superficially think ‘I have no link of farming, I don’t want to farm, ergo I don’t want to be in a program with food and agriculture’ and they don’t realize the opportunities in the sector and how to achieve their dreams in the sector.”
Van Acker is effusive in his enthusiasm about opportunities in agriculture. The industry is diverse and large enough that “whatever a young person dreams of for their future they can fulfill it in the agriculture and food sector.”
If they want to live in New York, or London, UK, or Chicago, there are agriculture jobs there, he says.
“If you want to, say, have a great paying job and career and want to live in Mitchell, Ont., you can do that too.”
He says he’ll take every student off of a farm who qualifies for an OAC program, but that they won’t be enough to fill the demand.
Van Acker was at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show last week and he says there was tremendous enthusiasm there for the sector.
But he says enthusiasm for the agriculture and food sector is spilling beyond the usual industry players. The Globe and Mail is also doing a story on this report, something Van Acker says he doubts would have happened five years ago.