Change in the Agricultural Sectors: Asscociated Human Resources Implications
There are basically three groups of stakeholders involved in human resource issues in the agricultural sector. These are the training providers, trainees and employers. This summary provides an overview of the issues and problems common within all three groups. It also provides recommendations for improving training programs, communication and human resource planning for the region.
3.1 Training Program Content
Trend: Farm operators want employees that are personable.
The study indicated that farm operators are looking for employees with exemplary personal skills (being punctual, polite and personable, having a "love of farming", possessing a strong work ethic, an eagerness to learn & other soft skills). Past trainees also recognized that a "good personality" is necessary to gain employment, including communication skills, good manners, a desire to learn and the ability to work in a team.
The obvious obstacle for training providers is that it is unlikely that a training program could provide a potential employee with the personal (soft) skills employers want in employees. While these skills are often the most important to the employer when hiring employees, they are skills that most training programs would have difficulty relaying.
Trend: Past trainees from Agricultural Colleges expressed concerns regarding the ratio of theory versus practice during their diploma program.
The lack of practical training offered by local training institutions was a common issue during the course of this study. Past trainees generally agree that the most desired type of training involves enhancing practical skills used on the farm. There is not enough opportunity for students to be involved with actual decision-making on farms.
The result of this trend is a lack of practical experience being offered to the labour market. Employers want students to be exposed to a farm in order to learn the basics of herd health, farm machinery maintenance and repair, milking procedures, and so on. There is a certain amount of risk that employers take on when employees do not know how to operate machinery or recognize a sick calf. A training program that is set strictly in the classroom will not offer the experience that both students and employers have stated they desire.
Training providers are, for the most part, aware of this problem. Course evaluations by trainees have indicated a lack of practical training. New approaches, such as "Learning to Do by Doing", where participants are required to do specific practical tasks, are being considered. While institutions are struggling to provide practical training, they lack seed money to develop such innovative programs.
- EOTB should meet with Agricultural Colleges to share information and develop a strategy.
There should be increased efforts to provide practical training, both in short training sessions and in the formal and longer diploma or certificate programs.
- More consultation should take place between training providers and farm operators to plan and develop relevant training opportunities.
- There should be increased cooperation between the farmer and training institutions in providing practical and valuable training to trainees.
- Essentially, there should be increased contact between agricultural trainees and the industry of agriculture. This means more contact between students and farm operators. This should be in the form of farm visits, as well as other opportunities such as cooperative work terms.
- Training institutions should make full use of experimental farms to provide students with the opportunity to learn practical farm skills. Students could be exposed to decision-making on experimental farms. Farm operators themselves would appreciate the development of more experimental farms, which they view as excellent opportunities to learn more about the business of farming.
Trend: Students find the content of training courses out-dated.
Another problem cited by students and farm operators alike was the lack of up to date and relevant training offered by local training institutions. When past students were brought together, their most prevalent complaint was that the course material was out-dated. Again, training providers are aware of this problem to some extent. They recognize that there is a problem, and are making some attempt to modernize and maintain the quality of their course offerings.
- Training institutions should make increased efforts to provide the most up-to-date information available. Course materials should be reviewed continually and revised as necessary.
3.2 Future Training Needs
This study indicates that most training institutions in Eastern Ontario are well appraised of the future training needs as expressed by farm operators and past trainees. Again, practical experience was repeated as the most desirable skill for a farm employee to gain, currently, as well as down the road.
Trend: Human resource training is becoming increasingly important in agriculture.
Another common consensus amongst the informants is that training and courses in human management will become increasingly important in the future. Many farm operators admit that they lack the requisite skills involved with employing and retaining workers. They acknowledge that there are some farmers with inappropriate or inadequate human resource skills that produce ongoing labour problems on the farm. They suggest that they, as employers, need training to improve their human resource management skills.
Farmers and past trainees also feel that overall farm management training will be in demand in the future. They anticipate many changes in the agricultural sector that will require increased skills to manage their business in the global market. This would include management of crops and large herds, as well as financial skills in accounting and marketing.
- A focus of future training should be on human resource skills in order to assist farm operators in attracting and retaining employees.
- Further suggestions for future training courses include an emphasis on basic knowledge such as farm machine maintenance and operation, welding, electrical work, nutrition, soil fertilization. It is suggested that commodity groups (i.e. poultry, dairy and swine associations) could be involved in the delivery of these courses, as well as related manuals.
- "Peer Group Training" could be initiated on the farm for practical training sessions in hoof trimming, farm safety, welding and so on.
- More advanced types of training for the future include Global Positioning System. Farmers, trainees and training institutions all mentioned GPS as a possible topic for future training.
3.3 Logistics of Training Opportunities
Trend: The logistics of training programs often create barriers to participation.
The location, timing and duration of training sessions are often challenging for operators and their employees. Distance between training and trainees has posed difficulties, especially in Northern Ontario. Training institutions are aware that long travel times to the training location is often a barrier to participation in training opportunities. Efforts have been made to locate the training close to participants´ homes. Training providers are also aware that farmers and farm employees desire short programs offered at convenient times. These efforts should continue.
- Training courses should be concentrated during the off-season. Training should not begin before 9 or 10 am and should finish by 3 p.m.
- Training institutions should increase consultation with farm operators on the timing and location of training offered.
3.4 Communication of Training Opportunities
Trend: Knowledge about training opportunities is not being effectively communicated with farm operators and potential trainees.
Producers and past trainees involved with the study indicate that they do not know what is available in terms of training, and they do not have a clear understanding of how to find that information. French speakers, in particular, noted a lack of French documentation and advertisement of courses.
- There should be increased communication between training providers and potential trainees. In this vein, training institutions may want to consider a cooperative approach to advertising their training programs. A central location could be developed to provide employers and employees with information on upcoming short-term training opportunities. This could be in the form of a web page or flyer developed by all of the relevant training providers distributed to farm operators and possibly past trainees. Alternatively, a toll-free line with a frequently updated message on upcoming training opportunities could be created.
- Training providers should increase the level of French documentation and advertisement of courses.
Trend: Agricultural employers struggle with recruiting employees.
The typical recruitment method used by farm operators is through inquiries with personal contacts including friends and relatives. Farmers use word of mouth to find retired farmers willing to work on their farms, although they have difficulty in locating these valued employees through any other means. The farm labour pool used to provide this type of contact information, as well as connecting other willing workers with the farmer. Farmers expressed disappointment that the farm labour pool has not been replaced with an equally effective means of putting potential employees together with employers.
- The possibility of a centralized farm worker recruitment centre should be considered. A list of full-time, part-time and seasonal workers should be posted or provided to farmers to assist in their search for employees. This could take the form of a web page or a telephone message machine regularly updated with the names and contacts of people either willing to employ or be employed.
- Farmers in the region have also recruited farm workers from overseas, and suggest that the Canadian government should further promote this activity.
- The Migrant Labourer Program should be extended and expanded to allow sectors other than fruit and vegetable to access labourers from overseas.
- Farmers and past trainees both expressed a desire for increased promotion of agricultural co-operative programs within high schools.
- A hiring list should be developed by the agricultural colleges and other training institutions to advise farmers of the availability of the skilled workers coming out of their programs.
Trend: Employment centres are the least reliable method of recruiting employees.
Farmers perceive that the centres are unconcerned with agricultural employment matters. They do not have sufficient lists of agriculture workers, and their hours of operation are not convenient to farmers.
- Employment centres should become more aware of the profile of agricultural workers for which farmer operators are searching. As well, the centres should have sufficient lists of agricultural workers, and their hours of operation should be made convenient for farmers.
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