No longer a career exclusive to farm kids, today’s agri-food industry offers a cornucopia of options for career seekers.
From field to fork, the Agri-food business encompasses a wide array of employment opportunities. As one of Canada’s main income providers, the Agri-food business is an important component of Canada’s economy and the nation’s colleges and institutes are keeping pace with changing trends and emerging technologies to make their students competitive in the global market.
According to the Government of Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-food Canada website, the industry employs one in eight Canadians (that’s about 2,300,000 jobs). From Prince Edward Island’s Holland College to Camosun College on Canada’s west coast, there are Agri-food programs encompassing the culinary arts, food manufacturing and production, farming and ranching, and agri-business management.
Amy Proulx, PhD. CCHP, Professor and Program Coordinator, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College says, “The University of Guelph commissioned a recent labour market needs assessment, entitled, ‘Planning for Tomorrow, 2.0’ that identified that for every Agri-food graduate, there are approximately four jobs in the industry. The industry is also focusing on more highly skilled jobs, where technical competencies are necessary for success. Graduates from Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program end up with a strong and well-rounded skill set.”
Situated in the heart of Canada’s wine country, Niagara College is home to the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at their Niagara-on-the-Lake location. One-year certificate programs include wine business management, artisan distilling, baking and pastry arts and culinary skills. Two-year diploma programs include winery and viticulture technician and brewery and brewery operations management. On-campus, students receive hands-on experience in the vineyard, gardens, greenhouse, restaurant, brewery and winery. In addition, Canada’s first teaching distillery will opens its doors this fall.
Proulx adds, “We find that most graduates go either into food product development and culinary research, or they move towards food safety and quality assurance management roles. All of our students get a solid culinary background which sets them up for creative product development, but our strong hands on food safety training, especially with our partnership with SGS Canada, gets students ready to deliver on HACCP (food safety) programming right out of school. What I enjoy about our community of students and alumni is that they come to this program because they are really passionate about food, and making delicious high quality products. We train them with the science and technology skills to be effective workers in our modern food industry. But in the end, they are just excited to work with food, and that’s a great environment to be in. I am very optimistic about the future of our food industry in Canada when I work with these young future leaders.”
At Red River College in Winnipeg, the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute houses state-of-the-art facilities for culinary arts and hospitality students. The Culinary Arts diploma program teaches technical skills as well as business practices and provides certification in food handling, first aid and more. Professional baking students will learn to make delicious breads, pastries and desserts and an on-site fine dining restaurant provides practical learning opportunities as well.
In the Maritimes, the Culinary Institute at Holland College’s Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island campus, provides first-class culinary and hospitality programs. A recent $7.5 million renovation and expansion allows students to work with the Island’s fresh local produce in their hands-on restaurant and banquet facility. Faculty and student accomplishments include national and international awards for culinary achievements.
At Camosun College in Victoria, BC, the Professional Cook certificate is one of Canada’s most successful Red Seal designated programs, training students in their professional production kitchens. The 28-week PC-1 course will prepare students to work in family restaurants, hotels and institutions. After completion of the 14-week PC-2 course, students will be qualified to obtain employment in upscale hotels and restaurants, and will be eligible to pursue their Red Seal certification.
With mobile food trucks increasing in popularity all across the country, Hamilton’s Mohawk College launched their Mobile Food Services Management course. The six-course certificate program assists students to obtain enough knowledge to own and operate their own mobile food sales venture.
Also in Ontario, a unique indigenous-focused program at Algonquin College immerses its students in traditional indigenous food preparation practices, knife skills, nutritional education and business management, all in an atmosphere of spirituality and culture.
Additional culinary arts programs are offered at the Food Science Centre at Portage College in northern Alberta.
The Centre for Food at Durham College in Whitby, Ontario supports a fine-dining bistro allowing diners to watch students prepare their meals.
On the business side of the Agri-food industry, Assiniboine Community College (ACC) in Brandon, Manitoba, has a two-year Agribusiness program combining business, technology and agriculture to provide a well-rounded education in agronomy, computer applications, livestock production, sales and marketing, business management and customer service.
James Ellis is an instructor in The School of Business, Agriculture and Environment at ACC. “Not all of our students are from farms, and you don’t need to be from one to work in the agriculture industry,” he explains. “Even if you are from a farm, agriculture careers deal with advances in technology, science, finance, and management. It would be difficult to learn all of this from a family farm and as things change and advancements are introduced, education is needed.”
Following completion of the Agribusiness program, graduates will be able to obtain employment in a variety of areas including farm management, livestock supply, government agencies, banking, and more.
Fanshawe College in Southwestern Ontario, University of the Fraser Valley, and Alberta’s Olds College also offer courses in agriculture management.
Students wanting to feel the soil beneath their feet or work with livestock will be interested in Lakeland College in Alberta, offering an Agricultural Sciences program with a Student-Managed Farm including 2100 acres of land, a flock of sheep and four cattle herds.
Olds College also includes a campus farm for students to gain hands-on understanding of the industry.
And In the north, Yukon College is working with industry partners to help address food concerns in the area and help improve food security for northern residents.
Agricultural Sciences students at Lethbridge College in Alberta can major in either Plant and Soil Science or Animal Science.
Byrne Cook, Agricultural Sciences Chair at Lethbridge College says, “I believe it is important for students to get the basic background of science so they know how and why the new products and technology can make a difference to their operations. Education opens so many doors and allows much more flexibility than being limited to what their current perception of agriculture might be.”
“The Ag Sciences program at Lethbridge College does not have our own farm, we have something better. What we do is teach the science of agriculture… why do we do what we do in crop and livestock production and what would happen if we changed techniques, equipment or marketing methods. Our College is located within thirty minutes of every primary livestock or crop production unit you could list including processors, distributors and marketing groups and our students visit and participate with over thirty five of these partners every year. Our programming also includes guest speakers, conferences and an entrepreneur in residence program, a partnership with the Lethbridge Agriculture Canada Research Center which is the largest facility in Canada and many Alumni that are always so willing to come back and share. That’s why we are called Agriculture Sciences.”
Graduates of this program have been flourishing in all areas of the Agri-food field.
“We have alumni working in every possible area of agriculture that you could list. I like to think that there are very few occupations that someone in agriculture wouldn’t pay you for. Those include but are certainly not limited to crop and livestock primary production, agriculture service industry from crop scouting to feed sales, banking, food inspection services, marketing of grains and livestock, administration of producer organizations and government agencies, to direct farmer’s markets and global trade specialists. There really is no limit to employment opportunities,” Byrne says. An exciting future lies ahead for the Agri-food industry and Canada’s students are leading the way.
By Jackie Fritz