Pork industry struggles to find labour

Innovation and collaboration will be needed to help address a labour shortage in all sectors of agriculture.

This shortage of manpower is being especially felt in the pork industry, said Manitoba Pork general manager Cam Dahl.

"We’re seeing labour as a significant constraint on the growth of the sector and in some cases the ability of operators to have that long-term sustainability of their operation," Dahl said.

"It is something that is of serious concern. This isn’t just a pork sector issue. It’s something that covers all of agriculture, so we need to work on this together."

The shortage of manpower can be felt throughout the entire value chain, Dahl said, and is of concern in the barns, at processing plants and with technical positions like veterinarians.

A Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council study indicated 40 per cent of farm operations in 2020 were unable to meet all of their labour needs. In the pork sector, 50 per cent of pork producers reported being unable to fill all of their operations.

"That’s a significant, significant shortfall," Dahl said.

By the end of 2029, the industry is looking to be short more than 120,000 workers.

There is a pressing need to address the scarcity of labour as soon as possible, Dahl said, but cautioned there will be no quick solutions.

The lack of workers has been a crisis that has been building over many years. It has been largely brought on by fewer people living in rural Manitoba. Many youths who grew up on farms are opting for urban living, he said, costing the sector a traditional source of labour and agriculture expertise.

At the same time, demands in the industry, especially on the technical front, have been requiring new skill sets and expertise.

These losses in labour were only exacerbated during COVID-19, Dahl said, because it became increasingly difficult for foreign workers to come in and help in the industry.

"COVID didn’t cause the problem, but it definitely has highlighted the need to find solutions," Dahl said.

If the shortage of manpower is not addressed, it could be a limiting factor for the growth and development of the pork industry, and agriculture overall.

Pork is a key economic driver in Manitoba, Dahl noted, and contributes almost $2 billion to the economy each year. This economic contribution is continuing to grow year-over-year, but will be unable to continue if jobs in the sector go unfilled.

"If people just think of their neighbours and the small businesses, if over half of the small businesses in your community can’t fill the vacant positions that they have, it starts to have a real impact on the local economy," Dahl said.

Two solutions are actively being sought to solve agricultural jobs going unfilled — better promotion of available industry careers and recruiting foreign workers.

There has been an impetus to talk to Canadians, especially urban-based Canadians like those in Winnipeg and Brandon, to encourage them to explore careers in the industry.

"We need to do a better job as agriculture of getting the message out that agriculture is an exciting place to be. It’s on the cutting edge of genetic technology. Agriculture is on the cutting edge of nutrition. It is an interesting career in veterinarian medicine," Dahl said. "Agriculture is a really cool place to be."

Dahl said they want to inspire to consider careers in agriculture and help people consider the perks of rural life.

The industry also needs to ensure they can bring in people abroad and new Canadians to work in the agriculture industry.

"The solution is going to need to be on both fronts," Dahl said.

He noted these solutions are centred on collaboration with other sectors of agriculture.

Keystone Agriculture Producers recently launched a labour task force to address the issue and work together as commodities within the province and across the country to solve the shortage of skilled labour in agriculture.

Dahl praised federal Agricultural Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau for last week’s release of her mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — solving agriculture labour was one of the top issues included.

The letter included a mandate addressing the persistent and chronic labour shortages in farming and food processing; prioritizing measures to support efficiency and climate-resiliency in agriculture; strengthening food security; encouraging sustainable growth across the country; and strengthening Canada’s food system as a whole.

"With the support of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and in partnership with provinces and territories, employers, unions and workers, develop a sector-specific Agricultural Labour Strategy to address persistent and chronic labour shortages in farming and food processing in the short and long term," reads the letter.

The mandate also included pathways for agricultural temporary foreign workers, supports the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to expand pathways to permanent residence for international students and temporary foreign workers through the Express Entry system.

It has been positive to see the release of the letter, Dahl said, because it speaks to the urgency of addressing the growing labour shortage.

"Agriculture does come together and work together on issues," Dahl said. "Agriculture is a place that does collaborate … both across the country and between commodities. It’s going to take time and it’s going to take collaboration across agriculture and across the country."

Par : Chelsea Kemp (19/12/2021)

Source : brandonsun.com

Image : Canva.com