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Secure labour sources needed to meet $75-billion ag-export goal

 

In 2017, the federal government challenged Canada’s agricultural producers to reach an export target of $75 billion by 2025 – fully $20 billion more than current levels. The government has identified agriculture as one of a handful of sectors that could spur economic growth.

Yet the huge potential for increased global trade for Canadian agri-foods is likely to go unfulfilled unless the agriculture sector’s chronic labour crisis is resolved.

Temporary foreign workers

The importance of temporary foreign workers to Canada’s farmers has been explained in previous blog posts. When farmers cannot find enough domestic workers to help them run their operations, access to temporary foreign workers, and the ability to keep them in the country, is crucial to the growth of the sector.

Proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program and to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are making it harder for farmers to access that labour lifeline.

Youth unemployment

We spoke with Joe Hersch, managing director of Youth Jobs Canada, who said that young Canadians could also be part of the solution.

“Unemployment rates among youth are in the range of 13 to 14 per cent,” said Joe. “That’s about double the Canadian unemployment rate, which stands at around seven per cent”.

Youth Jobs Canada is the only national employment website that focuses strictly on youth. It makes employment resources available to youth, and helps bridge the divide between them and potential employers. “We wanted to give youth the tools that they need to go after jobs, but also to allow employers to post jobs,” Joe continued.

The response to the site, which launched in October 2017, has been very favourable among employers, but the uptake among youth is growing more slowly. Joe commented that job seekers can sometimes be unrealistic in terms of the level at which they expect to enter a career path.

Youth Jobs Canada is building awareness among young people, primarily through work fairs and social media.

“Social media is where young people live,” said Joe, “and if you can direct your message through social media that’s how you can make sure you’re being seen. Having that interaction is so valuable, so that youth feel comfortable that we’re identifying with what they need.”

Services such as Youth Jobs Canada are valuable tools in the agricultural sector’s recruitment toolkit. Some others include Acme School’s Career Connections, Alberta 4-H, Ag in the Classroom and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Green Certificate Program. Nonetheless, support from the government is the best hope our agricultural producers have of a viable solution to this long-term challenge.

2017: Cattle feeders’ year in review

This past year saw a number of challenges arise that gave cattle feeders cause for concern, such as changing legislation and regulations, taxation, and trade. At each step, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has played an active role in advocating and negotiating for our members.

Here are some of the major projects we worked on in 2017:

Strategic plan

In March, ACFA board members, staff and industry partners met to renew the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan. Here is a summary of the outcome of those talks:

Vision: Champion a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Mission: Pursue innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Strategic priority #1: Build ACFA membership by delivering value to our members.

Strategic priority #2: Engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Strategic priority #3: Collaborate with partners to advance the industry.

Strategic priority #4: Strengthen ACFA governance.

Advocacy

There were many issues affecting cattle feeders in 2017 in which ACFA played an active role in advocating for our members’ interests. These included:

    • The Lethbridge County head tax which would severely impact cattle feeders in that area, resulting in feedlot closures.
    • The provincial carbon levy which could add costs by as much as $6 to $7 per head.
    • Federal income tax changes that will harm the viability of family-owned corporations.
    • Infrastructure needs, which are not receiving adequate provincial or federal funding.
    • Labour shortages, ongoing issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).
    • Farm safety, employment standards and the Employment Standards Code.
    • Trade, and access to new markets for cattle feeders.

Outreach

ACFA’s communications with stakeholders and the public included:

    • Key provincial government ministers, decision-makers, MLAs and MPs.
    • Members, industry and the media.
    • Feedlot tours for educators, students, and government officials.

Watch for status reports, as we continue to stay on top of these issues throughout the coming year.

Will immigration program changes help the agriculture labour crisis?

Photo Credit: GrainsWest magazine
Photographer: Bryce Meyer

 

On the surface, it appears that proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) may help alleviate the chronic labour crisis currently affecting our agriculture sector. However, on closer inspection, some of the changes will actually prevent feedlots from nominating certain highly skilled foreign workers.

The good…

The AINP allows foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency while they work in Canada under a temporary foreign worker permit. The program is not new, but until now, applicants have had to select from multiple streams and sub-categories under which eligibility was assessed. The proposed changes, which take effect on January 2, 2018, will simplify the application process and standardize eligibility criteria, making it simpler for applicants and streamlining the review process.

Of particular note, the new AINP will allow applicants from all skill levels to apply. Up until now, lower-skilled workers (such as feedlot labourers) have not had an option to apply for permanent residency in Canada. As of January 2, they will be eligible to apply under the AINP as long as they meet work experience, education, income and language requirements, among other things.

The bad & the ugly…

The federal government’s Express Entry program has grown increasingly more restrictive, forcing many skilled feedlot workers to look for alternative application streams. Further, the English language requirements of the program prevented many from applying. Luckily, the AINP has served as an option to workers who a) could not gain sufficient points under Express Entry due to their education, age, or a variety of other factors, and/or b) could not apply due to an inability to meet minimum language benchmarks.

As of January 2, all AINP applicants will need to provide proof that they have the equivalent of a Canadian High School Diploma. Further, they will need to pass an English language test. This will cover all skill levels; from pen riders to feed truck drivers or labourers, etc.

While it’s true that many feedlots employ highly skilled foreign workers with veterinary-related degrees and excellent English language skills, many more employ high-skilled workers who do not have high school diplomas or do not meet the language requirements. These workers often have decades of related work experience. Many could pass the speaking and listening portion of the exam, but cannot pass the reading/writing portions as they do not exercise these skills on a daily basis. Unfortunately, once the changes come into place these foreign workers will no longer have any option to pursue permanent resident status in Canada.

Why the agriculture sector needs foreign workers

For Canada’s agriculture sector, many factors have contributed to a labour shortage that makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to find help – factors such as harsh working conditions, the seasonality of the work and the steady flow of young people into urban areas.

According to ‘Agriculture 2025,’ the labour market information report from the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council, there were 59,200 more agricultural jobs than candidates in 2014. This labour gap is expected to rise to 113,800 – 27 per cent of jobs – by 2025. In other words, Canadian farmers cannot fill their jobs from the available pool of Canadian applicants.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been invaluable in helping alleviate the shortage. It allows employers to bring in foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill jobs that can’t be filled by Canadians. The AINP, on the other hand, allows those workers to apply for permanent residency while they are working in Canada on a temporary permit.

To learn more about the labour crisis, check out ’12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage and why it matters to Canadians’.