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KAP exploring apprenticeship program for farm staff

The farm group has begun early discussions with Apprenticeship Manitoba about the need for training those employed on farms and how training could be offered

With spring seeding around the corner, do you have the people you need on the payroll?

Many farmers don’t and know chances of finding someone are next to nil.

With the farm labour shortage intensifying, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) this spring is sitting down with Apprenticeship Manitoba to look further afield for workers.

They’re in early discussions about finding a way to make agriculture a designated trade taught at a post-secondary institution in thinly populated areas, said KAP president Dan Mazier.

“It’s starting to get more complicated to employ someone in any business today compared to years ago,” he said.

Employees want and need year-round work. The nature of the work is different. Farm equipment is far more sophisticated.

“So if we’re going to bring someone on to the farm, how do we do it in 2018? It’s not how we did it in 1970. That’s the question we’re basically trying to answer right now.”

What KAP wants to explore further is what a program to train fully qualified farm employees — journeyman farmers, if you will — might look like.

KAP backed a resolution at its annual meeting this winter about the lack of farm equipment operator courses available and calling for an agricultural operator or trade course to be developed.

What sort of training would be offered and which particular skills emphasized is what will take much discussion, Mazier said.

What’s clear is the absolute need for more people trained for work that needs to get done.

It’s no longer a case of waiting for the son or daughter of the farm neighbour to come looking for work, said Foxwarren grain grower George Graham who is chair of KAP’s workplace employment committee.

“It will never happen,” he said.

“There’s a tremendous shortage of skilled labour and we’re stuck with taking people who have no skill at all. More likely you’re going to have someone who has never seen a farm before and who may not even have English as a first language.”

It means investing considerable time to supervise and train newcomers. There’s also increased risk of mishaps if you don’t, he said.

“You only have to have an employee wreck a $100,000 piece of equipment once to realize that you’d wish you had them trained before you gave them the responsibility of operating it,” he said.

And that’s damage to equipment, never mind injuries to workers.

Safety is a key issue in all of this, said Mazier, who says the growing need for well-trained farm workers is “another telltale sign of the safety issues we have in agriculture.”

“I think the reason we’re having this conversation is because of our safety record,” he said.

There’s much groundwork to be laid before any program would develop but KAP is already making inroads.

KAP has begun a pilot project in the Steinbach area to train eight individuals on a half-dozen dairy farms. They’re receiving both classroom and on-farm training and will be offered jobs on these farms once their course is complete.

James Battershill, KAP general manager, said they’re looking forward to the lessons they’ll learn themselves from offering this training.

“Six producers and eight trainees doesn’t sound like a lot right now but if we do see some success we’ll be translating that into a more comprehensive, a suite of projects that extends beyond the dairy sector.”

There are already various courses offered at Assiniboine Community College (ACC) in specialized areas such as custom manure applications or GIS technology.

Mazier said they’ll also need to spend some time looking at where training of ag workers is offered elsewhere.

P.E.I. offers a two-year farm technician apprenticeship program and AgriCarriers in Quebec and the Ontario Ministry of Education have also developed training in specialized agricultural skills.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), meanwhile, has extensive resources to help, including established national occupational standards including one for general farm workers detailing the job tasks for employees at both entry and experienced levels and for managers and supervisors.

CAHRC’s labour market analysis underscores the impasse agriculture is reaching. Based on 2014 data there are 59,000 vacancies across the board in agriculture in Canada and the gap between domestic workforce and ag’s labour demand is projected to nearly double by 2025.

Basically, what it’s going to come to is more farmers faced with trying to go it alone or quit, said Graham.

“It just becomes too hard to do everything yourself eventually,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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