Keystone Agricultural Producers is working with Workplace Education Manitoba and Industry Training and Employment Services to create a pilot program that would see interested participants trained to work on dairy farms in southeastern parts of the province.
“The idea behind it is to fill some of the gaps in labour for farmers in Manitoba,” said Keystone policy analyst Alanna Grey. “It’s pretty significant how some of the labour shortage you experience can impact the finances of your operation.”
The program will pair a dozen dairy farmers with individuals currently looking for employment and provide them with detailed training.
“The premise of the whole program is that social agencies in the Steinbach area will identify potential participants who previously, perhaps, had barriers to full-time employment,” said Janice Goldsborough, a human resources consultant with the general farm organization. “We are looking at people who are on employment insurance, who might be on social assistance, First Nations, youth, as well as immigrants and refugees, it’s any of those areas.”
While other livestock sectors — like the pork industry — also see labour shortages, Goldsborough said dairy presented fewer obstacle in terms of finding participants.
“We decided to focus on the dairy sector, mainly because there’s usually not any cultural or religious restrictions,” she said. “In the swine industry, which would be another good avenue to go, we also had to be mindful that some cultures, such as a lot of the refugees who are coming in, their religion forbids them from handling pork, so we thought, dairy is a pretty safe industry, it’s pretty neutral.”
But she added that the program’s long-term goal is to expand to other commodities, possibly reducing reliance on the temporary foreign worker program.
“We want a made-in-Manitoba solution,” said Goldsborough. “We’re hoping that if this is successful we can expand it to other industries, other commodities, to be able to train people locally to work, whether it’s in swine or poultry or cattle ranches, or whatever it is… we’re hoping that this will be able to create a template.”
Kim Shula, southeast regional co-ordinator for Workplace Education Manitoba, said the organization will work with dairy farmers before making a call for participants to establish exactly what skills are needed for dairy work.
“We’ll be working closely with the industry to basically profile the job of a dairy worker, so what are the types of activities that they need to undertake,” Shula said. “For example, is there a certain amount of documentation that a dairy worker has to do, which would be either writing a schedule or keeping records?”
The plan is to teach the requirements required by industry, as well as working to upgrade literacy and numeracy skills. But first, the pilot project will work to identify suitable candidates for the program.
“Now what I mean by suitable, is folks who are comfortable working in the type of situations you would encounter on a dairy farm… there would be some heavy lifting required, they may have to work outside… they would have to wear coveralls and rubber boots, so dampness and wetness would be expected,” said Shula. “Also, an ability or aptitude to work with animals is needed, so we’ll be assessing a number of factors as these individuals come in to meet with us.”
When presented at a district Dairy Farmers of Manitoba meeting in Steinbach this fall, producers raised concerns about the long-term commitment and suitability of participants, with no one at the meeting expressing interest in signing on to the pilot project. However, in recent weeks a handful of dairy farmers have decided to participate.
“The vetting process will make sure that we are getting people who are wanting to work and aren’t going to get out to the farm and suddenly change their mind, we’re hoping to get a good-quality participant so that the producers will get good workers in the end,” Goldsborough said.
Speaking directly to producers, she added, “I know you’re all probably thinking, well yeah, but they’re not going to show up on time, etcetera. Those are expectations and what we’re hoping that is we can overcome the barriers to employment and get them working, that they will consider this a great opportunity and pick up their socks and be a good employee of you. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, but we’re trying.”
She added that many Canadians just don’t see working on a farm as an option, but once they are exposed to the possibility they embrace the work. Others rule out farm work simply because they don’t have access to a vehicle, something that can often be solved creatively once a desire to work in a rural area is established.
The program is expected to include about nine weeks of training before a participant actually begins to work on any given farm.
“There is no cost to the farmers up to that point, the training is done through this funding we have received from the government,” Goldsborough said. “Once that employee starts working on their farm, the farmer will be responsible for paying their wages.”
Workplace Education Manitoba will also continue to provide participants with job coaching for their first five weeks on the job.