In fact, there are currently four jobs for every graduate of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), according to a new report.
“It’s a sector that has to grow no matter what, because people have to eat,” said OAC dean Rene Van Acker. “But it’s also a sector that has a chronic challenge in attracting people.”
Commissioned by OAC, the employment study titled Planning for Tomorrow 2.0 reveals that the agriculture and food industry is thriving but there aren’t enough qualified people to fill all the jobs.
Based on a survey of 123 Ontario employers in the sector, the report provides a snapshot of hiring trends and demands in agriculture and food. The new survey updates a report from five years earlier that found there were three jobs for every graduate of an OAC undergraduate program.
As a national and international leader in agriculture and food, U of G provides a majority of the graduates for this sector in the province, said Van Acker.
He said OAC wanted to update its survey to accurately gauge job demand and see where to focus recruitment efforts and enhance programs.
“It’s great news for students entering and coming out of the programs because of the tremendous demand for their skills and the many opportunities for them. On the other side, it remains a challenge for us at the University to help the sector find the people they need to grow.”
Not only did the report reveal an increase from three to four jobs available for every graduate, but it also found employers predicting even more jobs over the next five years.
With job availability on the rise, OAC is putting more aggressive strategies in place to meet demand. Enrollment in OAC’s programs has grown each year over the past seven years, but not fast enough, said Van Acker.
“We have work to do among potential students to let them know that this sector has great career opportunities, and that employers are looking specifically for people coming out of our programs.”
The college is pursuing new initiatives to inform students about growth prospects in the high-tech food and agriculture sector, said Van Acker.
“You don’t have to grow up on a farm to work in agriculture. There are all sorts of careers in the sector, and with many of them you can work in urban centres and live an urban lifestyle.”
Ippolito Group, one of North America’s leading produce companies based in Burlington, Ont., is exploring automated food processing approaches that require significant technical expertise, said Robert March, chief operating officer.
“We recently utilized U of G people for a project that involved incorporating cutting-edge technology into our production line, and we will be looking to U of G graduates for future projects as well,” said March. “U of G is where we will be sourcing our brainpower.”
Food processors and growers, input suppliers, financial institutions and government agencies were among those surveyed in the report funded by the OAC Dean’s Office, OAC Alumni Foundation, Farm Credit Canada and RBC Royal Bank.
In an effort to promote and grow its programs, OAC plans to strengthen liaison efforts with schools and connect with food companies to create programs geared to the industry, said Van Acker.
“We are so excited about this sector because we know it and understand it. We want to transplant that excitement into young people who are looking for opportunities because there is so much opportunity here.”
Among the survey’s specific findings:
- 44 per cent of food employers and 56 per cent of agriculture employers project a general increase in the average number of new hires over the next five years.
- 77 per cent of food employers and 79 per cent of agriculture employers state a preference for formal training in food and agriculture graduates.
- 50 per cent of food employers and 57 per cent of agriculture employers state that more than half of their employees require or have post-secondary education.
- 51 per cent of food employers and 67 per cent of agriculture employers report difficulties in finding recruits.