By Jackie Clark
Travel restrictions introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed or prevented some temporary foreign workers who would typically provide essential seasonal labour on Ontario farms from being able to arrive in time for spring. Additionally, the closure of non-essential businesses and workplaces has left many Ontarians out of work. To help provide a potential solution for labour shortages in the ag industry, the provincial government “is launching a new web portal, connecting workers with employers looking to fill positions in the agri-food sector,” said an April 4 statement.
Under the current circumstances, farmers may be able to attract and hire new workers who may not have a background in the agricultural sector, but who can still be a dedicated asset to their operations.
“There is a supply of potential employees that find themselves available during these challenging times, many who have no idea what farming jobs entail or that they even exist. First off, creating awareness of these opportunities is key,” Erika Osmundson, director of marketing and communications at AgCareers.com, told Farms.com. The provincial government is connecting job seekers to online job boards like AgCareers.com.
Producers can post jobs “on social media. Also, take advantage of the local aspect and your community connections. Word of mouth is a great recruitment tool,” Osmundson said.
Farmers can attract potential applicants with limited understanding of farming by making connections they understand.
“Make the connection as close to home for them as possible – how what they will be doing can impact them, their family/friends and their community. The influence they’ll (have) on the food chain, particularly during this time of need is key. Help them overcome the stereotypes of manual labour and talk about the innovation and technology found on so many operations these days,” Osmundson explained.
Speaking to compensation may also help attract applicants. “The perception is that farmers offer low wages, which isn’t usually the case. Plus, many operations offer some unique perks and benefits that can be appealing. Share those. More now than before, talk about the stability of being an essential worker and that sense of purpose” in the ag industry, she added.
Once a producer has posted their job opening and collected applications, there are some key things to look for that can indicate who might be a suitable employee, even if they don’t have specific agricultural experience.
“Clues to some of these key skills would be length of service with past employers. Did the person stay short periods of time and many places or did they stay several years at just a few? This can point to loyalty and work ethic. Does their application show growth in responsibility over their work experience? This demonstrates that leadership viewed them as capable, worthy of upward movement and having the ability to learn. Is their application neat and organized in thought? This points to the organization and attention to detail they might bring to the job,” Osmundson said.
Producers can use interviews to dive into potential employees’ attitudes and soft skills, she added. “Given the pool will likely lack practical or technical skills, farmers should be looking for the cultural fit of the person. Technical skills are often easier to train than the innate soft skills.”
And though farmers may be eager to get straight to work, employees who are new to the agricultural sector will need more instruction than an experienced labourer, to make sure they are working safely and effectively.
“However, on the bright side, they won’t come with preconceived notions of how things should be done or bad habits from working at other operations. Farmers will be able to train these workers on just how they want things done. If you’ve selected candidates with the right attitude and a willingness to learn, training the technical skill side won’t be as difficult as one might think,” Osmundson explained.