Students across Wellington County made real-world connections as they learned about future career pathways in the agriculture and agri-food sector.
About 600 students attended the AgScape’s thinkAG Career Competition at the Grand River Agricultural Society in Elora last week.
Students rotated between different stations where they met agriculture and agri-food industry representatives and competed in interactive activities to test their overall employability and general agriculture and agri-food knowledge.
“Right now, agriculture and food has the largest career gap in Ontario and this is growing at an alarming rate. This is turning into what might almost be classified as a ‘crisis’ within our food system, already being affected by the number of open jobs and careers in agriculture and food,” said Mira Lyonblum, executive director of AgScape.
“At AgScape, we are here to educate and inspire young people to understand their role in our agriculture and food process. There is so much that goes into finally getting food onto your plate. And that starts even before it grows.”
Lyonblum said this includes understanding soil, research, chemistry and everything along the way.
“There are so many areas where students can have a role in agriculture, roles they don’t even know about. We need more people to have careers in agriculture and food,” Lyonblum said.
“Working with volunteers from different industries, students can interact, ask questions and get a hands-on taste in a particular area. Volunteers share not only what they specifically do and the path they took, but also other jobs within their industry.”
Each group of 20-25 students, in grades 8 and 9, were awarded points for demonstrating 21st century competencies displayed at each station.
Participating organizations included Grain Farmers of Ontario, TLC Alpaca, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), 4-H, Ontario Broiler Chicken Hatching Egg Producers Association, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork, and Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians.
“We are so excited to be here today so we can introduce students to all of the possibilities. We have over 19,000 jobs related to the pork industry in Ontario,” said Kathleen Baird from Ontario Pork.
“That ranges from being a vet technician, to a producer, working in finance, lending, advertising and graphic design. We want to expose students to these jobs and we also want to show them what a commercial operation looks like and how we care for our animals. For those who don’t have access to a farm, we want to bring it to them.”
Lyonblum said this opportunity helps students understand that being involved in agriculture and food, does not necessarily mean a career as a farmer, a veterinarian or chef.
“You can take whatever it is that interests you already, whatever you want to get into, and do it within the agriculture and food industry. There isn’t a job that we don’t need in agriculture and food,” Lyonblum said.
“We need chemists, and we need drone technicians. If kids like to play video games, maybe they want to do that for a living. Maybe they can run the drones that do cattle monitoring to make sure that they are healthy, because that is being done by computers now. We need lawyers and accountants, communicators, and photographers. Anything can be included in agriculture and food.”
Mercedes Unwin, program manager at AgScape said that with the industry experiencing such a labour shortage, it’s important to inspire youth, to show them all that the agricultural sector has to offer.
“We want to encourage youth to learn more about agriculture, learn things that they do not learn in the classroom,” Unwin said.
Cecilia Neerhof, a Grade 8 student from J.D. Hogarth Public School in Fergus, was keen to explore the possibilities with her fellow students.
“I’m really happy to be here and to learn all about agriculture. It’s so awesome,” she said.
Fellow classmate, Hannah Moyer, lives on a farm.
“I know a lot about animals already,” Moyer said. “But I want to be in agriculture when I’m older, so it’s great to be here today.”
As the voice of Agriculture in the Classroom Ontario, AgScape provides factual, balanced, curriculum-linked food literacy programs and resources to Ontario's educators and students.
Filling the career gap begins in the hallways of Ontario schools, according to Lyonblum.
“There is a higher likelihood of finding a sustainable job in agriculture because there is availability. We want that for our youth,” Lyonblum noted.
“By having them understand, at a young age, of all of the different careers and skills within agriculture and food, we hope to inspire that in the near future."