Win-win: Inclusivity for a growing industry

By Maggie McCormick

Agriculture is moving into some exciting spaces. Consumers are interested in what they’re eating, science and technology are advancing, and food, fibre, fuel and feed will never be unnecessary. Just because it’s exciting however, doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles along the way. Canadian agriculture is going to need talent to propel it to a place that allows farmers to continue to grow food efficiently, safely and in a way that pleases the end user all at the same time.

In 2012, the Ontario Agricultural College released Planning for Tomorrow, a report on hiring trends in Ontario agriculture. It found that demand for post-secondary graduates in the food and agriculture industry far exceeded supply. In the 2015 Canadian report by AgCareers, the job posting service saw a steady increase in agriculture job postings. In November, research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council determined “[t]he gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past ten years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs.” Scientists, engineers, software designers, marketing professionals, educators – agriculture is going to need them all and more.

In addition to the many positions available to be filled, millennials have said they expect to change jobs every three years. The high turn over rate means agriculture will constantly be competing for millennial talent, and that of their younger cohort, with the rest of the country.

What do we need to attract talent to agriculture? At a meeting I attended this summer, a bank executive was reflecting on what sectors needed to attract talent. “We know that for sectors to grow they need to have an appealing culture”. If that bit of wisdom holds true, to attract new talent and keep them we are going to need to keep building an inclusive culture.

By building an inclusive culture, newcomers to the industry will have positive experiences in agriculture. They will feel welcome, supported and ready to put down roots in the communities that support the industry. They will bring new ideas that will both support and evolve current practices.

In an inclusive industry, newcomers will better connect agriculture with customers. We need diversity in our industry to help us reach an incredibly diverse customer base. There are so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, traditions and needs to serve. Insight and ideas will be invaluable to growth.

Finally, an inclusive industry makes a healthier environment for newcomers, but also for those already working and living in this space. Becoming more accepting will help everyone feel safer to share their ideas and be true to their entire identity. It will be a space for open dialogue, and everyone will benefit from the culture.

Ideas for building the inclusive culture

Creating positive experiences

Agriculture is steeped in tradition, but often tradition can be a little hard to access if you’re new. Just because some hasn’t participated in a culture doesn’t mean they won’t want to! Celebrate traditions by sharing them and making them easy to access, without judgement. This industry is incredibly unique and has so many opportunities outside the workplace. By inviting newcomers to participate and explaining traditions, it will make agriculture more inclusive and stand out.

An understanding environment

While we’re celebrating traditions, let’s celebrate what newcomers are bringing to the industry. Maybe it’s their own traditions, maybe it’s their perspective on issues, maybe it’s new knowledge and expertise. If someone has an idea, they shouldn’t be shut down because “that’s not how it’s done”. Maybe the way it’s done is getting really worn out anyways! The HR Council notes that “[w]hen individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work, they will not engage fully as part of the team or in assigned work.” Ag has to be a safe space to share thoughts, feelings and experiences to attract engaged talent.

Open dialogue

To become more inclusive, we need to keep talking about it. Without discussion we will never be able to acknowledge our issues and try new things to fix them. After all that’s part of the reason AWN exists! There are some obvious ground rules to beginning a dialogue: don’t make assumptions and don’t force it. A good discussion involves a lot of listening, rather than jumping ahead. If someone has a unique perspective, they will share if they want to. Overall though, the more we discuss it, the more comfortable we will all be about addressing industry challenges.

In the end an inclusive culture doesn’t really need justification. “Welcome all people” is a statement I’m sure most can get behind. However, there are definitely some added benefits if the industry can grow and strengthen at the same time.

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