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Creativity required to expand the agriculture talent pool

By: Kara Oosterhuis

November 16, 2020

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From farm level to the corner office, there are more jobs available in agriculture than ever before.

But the possibility of a future talent shortage is a definite concern, and that discussion was part of the recent farm management-focused week of the Syngenta Media Summit.

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“It’s been a hot topic lately, specifically in Syngenta, but I think everybody’s asked themselves in the post COVID-19 world, what it’s going to be like,” says Trevor Heck, president of Syngenta Canada. “How are we going to change the way we work going forward, and what will we take away from this experience.”

Traditional talent pools, such as agricultural colleges and universities, won’t be large enough to get the industry to grow to the level that it needs to, says Heck. There’s a significant number of jobs in agriculture that can be done remotely, from home, that may present a large opportunity going forward, once the pandemic has been sorted. The ability to work remotely may facilitate finding talent outside of the traditional talent pool.

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Furthermore, agriculture jobs don’t have to be filled by those with a strictly ag-related background. Marketing, finance, production and supply, and research scientist roles are positions where the talent base can be brought in. “One opportunity is to tell the agriculture story in those areas to try and expand the talent base that we get to draw from,” says Heck.

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Part of the story to be told is the purpose surrounding agriculture, as well as sustainability concerns — especially among the younger applicants to ag positions at Syngenta, they want to feel good about the work they do.

A barrier to expanding the talent pool, for those who want to enter agriculture, is local geography. A head office or research farm, or where a sales position is based out of will continue to be a barrier in some instances, and only a small percentage of potential employees will consider moving for a job.

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Guelph and Calgary are the primary job markets for Syngenta to recruit from, but now since a lot of the work is remote, Heck says that the job market to pull from has expanded significantly to Vancouver, Winnipeg, and others.

Agricultural hiring may see a shift in the next few years, if other companies broaden their talent pool.