One of the most pressing issues the Canadian agriculture industry faces today is the availability of skilled labour.
The agriculture and agri-food sector employs over 2.3 million Canadians, representing approximately 12 per cent of Canadian employment.
“There is a labour shortage in the agriculture and food sector and this is a significant issue,” said Leigh West, recruitment manager at the University of Guelph’s, Ontario Agricultural College.
“This includes a number of different positions in these fields. The shortage is estimated between 123,000 to 160,000 jobs in the next five years.”
The University of Guelph is responding with a hands-on, course-based program in the department of plant agriculture offering recent graduates and
professionals an upgrade to their education and training but without traditional academic research through a thesis-based program.
Scheduled to start in fall 2024, a new master of plant agriculture program will address the demands of employers in the private and public sectors who are looking for professionals with expertise in areas such as plant breeding, crop production and plant science.
A recent report from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), a national, non-profit organization focused on addressing human resource issues faced by agricultural businesses across Canada, identifies the gap between labour demand and the available domestic workforce for Canada’s agricultural sector.
In 2017, the agriculture sector was unable to fill 16,500 jobs. CAHRC reports that, between now and 2029, a growing global market for Canada’s agricultural products will increase the demand for labour. The rising global demand for food, especially animal protein, will be a key growth driver.
West says the new master of plant agriculture program will attract both domestic and international students.
“This is an opportunity to have a course-based option for individuals who ... already have an undergraduate degree, or have already been working. They have a great foundation and want to upskill,” West said.
The flexibility of the program allows students to study on a full- or part-time basis and to select courses that match specific career goals in breeding and genetics, biochemistry and physiology, or crop production systems for both agronomic and horticultural crops.
Students can complete the program in three or four semesters, allowing international students to be eligible to apply for a post-graduate work permit.
Experiential learning will be a major component of the program.
“We are consistently hearing that employers are seeking graduates that have the scientific knowledge as well as the hands-on training in plant and agricultural science,” said John Cranfield, acting-dean of the Ontario Agricultural College. “This program will fill this gap and provide graduates with valuable skills in collaboration and communication needed for career success.”
The university says prospective students are advised that the program is still subject to formal approval.
The first intake of students to the master of plant agriculture is ‘slated’ for September 2024 pending approval from the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance.