Farm profile: Investing in win-win labour solutions

To reduce its on-going labour shortage, VRP Farms has developed a process where it assists Temporary Foreign Workers.
Theresa Whalen, CAHRC Communications.
Thursday, 04 August 2016
By Theresa Whalen, CAHRC Communications.
August 4, 2016 - Van Raay Paskal Farms Ltd. (VRP Farms) is located near the rural Alberta town of Picture Butte – about 240 km south of Calgary with a population of 1,650.  VRP Farms owns and operates seven feedlots housing up to 130,000 head of cattle and crops more than 22,000 acres that produce barley, corn and wheat silage/roughage for the feedlot cattle. Essential to the farm’s success are its approximately 170 employees.

In order to attract and retain that size of a workforce, the farm first expends extensive efforts to hire Canadian workers, and then the remaining positions are filled by Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) primarily from Mexico, the British Isles and South Africa. To reduce its on-going labour shortage, VRP Farms has developed a process where it assists these TFWs through the steps needed to achieve permanent resident status and eventual Canadian citizenship by completing significant on-the-job training and developing the unique skills needed for working with cattle on a feedlot.

“It’s a win – win situation,” explains Jolayne Farn, human resource manager for VRP Farms. “VRP Farms has created a pathway to citizenship for foreign workers so they can stay, thus ensuring that VRP Farms has enough employees long-term and the workers can build their future in Canada. So far we have had a strong response and much success.”                                                                               

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has studied the VRP Farms example of successful workforce retention so that others can emulate their best practices. CAHRC’s mandate is to help alleviate the chronic labour shortage facing Canadian agriculture through its Labour Market Information (LMI) research and developing appropriate labour support tools. CAHRC recently released research indicating that annual farm cash receipt losses to Canadian producers due to job vacancies are $1.5 B or three per cent of the industry’s total value in sales. The current gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce is 59,000 and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs.

“New Canadians have long been an under-represented group within the agricultural workforce,” explains Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of CAHRC. “Van Raay Paskal Farms has developed an effective labour solution with their training and retention process. CARHC is sharing this case study so that others may learn from it.”

VRP Farms’ approach to labour identifies several aspects that are key to their success:

Excellent orientation program for new arrivals: All new employees are picked up at the airport and lodged in a hotel until suitable housing is found. They are never alone at the start of their employment.

Opportunities for advancement: All employees are provided with opportunities to grow. Training and development is part of the standard employment package. Several of VRP Farms’ workers who arrived as temporary foreign workers have since become Canadian citizens, have been with the company for eight years and have advanced into management positions.

Personal loans: Employees are provided with a $5000 loan to assist in purchasing a vehicle, furniture, a horse for pen riders, etc. This loan is paid back through small pay deductions over a period of two years.

Knowledge sharing: Employees are provided with every opportunity to share their knowledge and experience. While they are learning from VRP Farms, VRP Farms is also learning from them.

Translators:  VRP Farms has Spanish translators to ensure Mexican employees fully understand any information being provided to them.

Employee referral program: The referral program is two tiered; the person that refers a potential hire receives $75 after the recruit’s first six weeks are completed, then another $75 at the end of the recruit’s probation period.

Van Raay Paskal Farms is just one of many case studies being done as part of CAHRC’s LMI research into reducing barriers to agricultural employment for new Canadians.

For more information on CAHRC’s LMI project visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca. The LMI research is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.

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