DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – The Northern Lights College agriculture labour market study is complete, examining the current state of the agriculture sector in Northeast British Columbia.
The report suggests the agricultural sector in Northeast B.C. is projected to “grow significantly in the next ten years.”
Two projections were used: one from BC Stats’ Industry data, and one from growth expectations among agriculture producers that responded to the project survey.
The “base scenario” expects a 2.7 per cent growth in agriculture jobs in the next 10 years, which is significantly higher than the provincial projection of 0.68 per cent annual growth rate.
The “optimistic scenario” predicts an even bigger growth rate. Between 2021 and 2026, producers and associated businesses in the region are expected to see an annual average growth of around 8 per cent.
“We now have a current snapshot of the agriculture labour trends in the Northeast and recommendations that can help move the industry forward,” said Todd Bondaroff, Vice President, Student Services and Community Relations.
“Northern Lights College will help support the industry’s educational needs, but it will take a concerted effort of multiple government ministries, agencies, and other local training providers to fully support these recommendations.”
The report suggests the values and lifestyle of agriculture as a career is highly attractive to youth, and the sector’s resilience and long-term stability are a potential benefit for young people looking for long careers.
One secondary school counsellor in the Northeast region’s comments were included in the report. The counsellor said agriculture is resistant to boom-or-bust cycles.
“As the Northeast region is a resource hinterland, our economies are based on resource sectors: ag, oil and gas, and forestry. Agriculture is the only reliable one on that list. I don’t think long-term things factor into kids’ minds; they’re pretty focused on the bottom line,” said the counsellor.
Weaknesses identified in the report include the shrinking pool of young people who are interested in agriculture, as well as competition for agricultural workers from other regions in B.C. and across Canada.
One grain farmer’s comments were included in the report, saying the pay scale in other industries in the region makes it harder to recruit for agriculture.
“The big challenge is, the other industries in the region generally have a better pay scale and are looking for workers with the same qualification levels. It’s not as attractive to get training in agriculture compared to other industries,” said the grain farmer.
Increasing consumer demand for sustainable food, especially animal production, is a growth opportunity for the region. Greenhouse construction and investment could offer skilled labour growth in the region, including HVAC technicians.
The two main threats to the market growth include an inability to replace retiring workers and an inability to recruit qualified workers.
Based on the results of the study, Northern Lights College developed the following recommendations for meeting the challenge over the next ten years:
The study, State of the Agriculture Labour Trends and Needs in Northeast British Columbia, is a partnership between the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and Northern Lights College.