New post-secondary programs provide increased opportunity to join the plant-based labour market

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As plant-based companies across Canada scale their operations, they’re also looking to scale their workforce. However, finding the employees they need—with education backgrounds ranging from crop genetics, to mechanical engineering, to food science, to culinary arts—can be a difficult task.

In an effort to increase companies’ access to the trained talent they need to succeed, Protein Industries Canada has partnered with post-secondary institutions across the country to offer a new range of educational programs. All are focused on different points of the plant-protein value chain, helping to strengthen both the sector and Canada’s economy.

“We need to make sure that we get new ideas, and new people, coming over from different cultures and different experiences that can actually bring us more knowledge,” Palette Skills Program Manager Ednali Zehavi said. “In order to find someone that … understands agriculture and is highly skilled and highly trained, it takes a lot of effort and time to identify this employee, and a lot of times you don’t have good retention and you still need to train them.”

Palette Skills has partnered with the University of Saskatchewan (USask), the Enterprise and Machine Learning Initiative (EMILI) and Economic Development Regina to design and deliver a reskilling program that helps solve this training and retention problem. Currently focused on Saskatchewan residents, the Palette program helps students move from their current area of employment into the agrifood sector. The program will be offering a second round of training to new students in Winter 2023, building on the success of its first cohort.

This ability to upskill, rather than learning a trade or technical skill from the ground up, has proven to be a sought-after path for potential students. Zehavi explained that Palette has had to limit enrolment to those students most likely to see success in both the program and the sector, helping ensure a high employment rate post-program.

“We’re committed to at least a 90 per cent placement rate,” Zehavi said. “What we do is we match them at the end not just with a job, but with a career. So we identify for them the right employer and the right opportunity that will allow them to grow.”

Such is the type of success other sector-specific programs are hoping to see. Together with Whitecap Dakota First Nation, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) recently launched a micro-credential program focused on helping Indigenous youth gain employment in agrifood processing. The first cohort of students is expected to complete the program near the end of January.

To ensure the program would meet the needs of industry, SIIT worked with companies across the value chain to develop the curriculum and offer students hands-on experience. The program also offers valuable networking opportunities, helping to further solidify post-program employment.

“We’re really starting to blur the line between skills training, skills development and employment. This is a pretty strong partnership with industry,” SIIT Vice President of Academics Tavia Laliberte said. “Industry has kind of been in step with us right from program creation, but even in program design and the delivery … Our students will, in many ways, be going to work every day while they’re going into their program. There’ll be really strong connections with industry.”

This strong collaborative approach has proven beneficial to more than just the program. Importantly, Laliberte explained, it also supports Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses, and supports Indigenous youth in gaining the skills they need to gain long-term employment in one of Canada’s fastest-growing industries.

“We’re really seeing growth around Indigenous inclusion and participation in the agriculture sector as a whole, but there’s still lots of low-hanging fruit and opportunity for Indigenous people to participate,” Laliberte said. “With the expected growth around agrifood processing, this is an opportunity to get ahead of that curve and bring Indigenous people into a sector that we know is really going to grow.”

Canada’s plant-based sector is growing, and its need for skilled labour is growing along with it. But with an increase of programs such as those offered by Palette Skills and SIIT, Canadian talent will be well-positioned to meet that need.

Read about the SIIT and Whitecap project Read about the Palette Skills project