Opinion Column

Exciting jobs continue to grow in the field of agriculture

By Brittany Doner

(QMI Agency file photo)

(QMI Agency file photo)

The volume of skilled-labour in agriculture is on the decline while demand for food continues to increase.

Although most students don’t claim they want to be a hydrologist or a soil scientist when they grow up, within the field of agriculture there is an emerging demand for persons with skills in biology, engineering, technology, horticulture, and marketing.

“The agriculture sector has predicted a Canadian skill-set shortage of approximately 50,000 workers in the next few years,” says Colleen Smith, Executive Director, Ontario Agri-Food Education Inc., (OAFE).

“The situation will worsen further due to the aging labour population in agriculture which highlights a need for more robust succession planning.”

OAFE has embarked on an initiative that will see the creation of a broad spectrum of agri-career documents targeted to high school students and teachers on the topics of precision agriculture, robotics, green energy, bio energy, financial literacy, soil science and more to come on emerging technologies.

“The best time to address the many facets of opportunities within agriculture is with high school students who are focused on their future studies and what careers to pursue,” says Smith. “There is a bright future in food and agriculture, but it can go unseen if no one shines a light on it.”

One school in Simcoe County has already recognized the value of providing students further education to assist with aspirations in horticulture, agriculture, and animal sciences.

Since 2008, Banting Memorial High School in Alliston has been implementing Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs in Agriculture and Horticulture and Landscaping.

“A Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) is a bundle of credits, work experiences and certifications that focus on specific sectors of the economy and prepares students for careers in those sectors,” says Justin van Diepen, IRT Co-operative Education Specialists High Skills Major.

“While courses are designed to suit students’ interests, all programs must meet the standard requirements for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).”

In addition to providing students with hands on experience, this program also assists students to earn valuable certifications and/or training in courses such as: Standard First Aid/CPR, pesticide handling and safety, livestock medicine and tractors and other self-propelled equipment.

The Simcoe County District School Board currently offers 37 SHSM programs; however, Banting is the only school offering a program focused on Agriculture.

The SHSM Agriculture program at Banting provides students with a mixture of applied credits in several areas, including: horticulture, agriculture, biology, animal science and livestock production.

Theresa Watt, the teacher who manages the SHSM Agriculture program at Banting, says the program has been enjoyed by a mixture of students, some who have grown up on family farms and others who have limited experience with animals or farming, but who have a deep interest in science.

“This program provides students with some background and experience with the major livestock commodities while also encouraging our graduates to pursue studies and/or a career in one of the many viable agri-food sectors,” says Watt.

For more information on Ontario Agri-Food Education Inc. and their classroom resources and materials, visit www.oafe.org.

For information on Specialist High Skills Major Programs, visit www.myshsm.ca.

Brittany Doner is a project consultant for the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter.

Food Matters is a monthly column addressing a variety of relevant topics concerning the food system in Simcoe County, as identified by the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter. For more information, visit www.fpa.simcoe.ca.

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