Growing the economy alongside the plant-based sector

Photo provided by Actua

As one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, it’s no surprise that there’s increasing demand for skills and talent in Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector. Expected to add more than 17,000 jobs to Canada’s labour market over the next 10 years, the sector is looking for everything from food scientists, to engineers, to data analysts to support its growing and diverse needs.

Ensuring that this job growth is sustainable requires work on behalf of educational institutions and employers alike. For educational institutions, it’s a matter of providing the best possible training to land a new job in the sector, while ensuring Canadians—from youth through to adults looking for new opportunities—are aware of the opportunities available to them. Employers, meanwhile, must focus more on providing meaningful work experiences, attracting new talent and supporting educational institutions in developing their curriculum.

Consistently developing and updating workforce skills is an important element of this work. Canada’s plant-based sector is evolving at a fast rate, particularly with the incorporation of technology such as artificial intelligence. To succeed in the sector, it’s important employees’ education is as up to date on innovative technology and as many processing methods as possible.

Photo provided by Actua

“By using science, technology, engineering and math [STEM], Canadians are revolutionizing the way we approach agriculture, including the plant-based sector,” Actua Senior Manager of Partner Relations Kaitlynn Carroll said. “For Canada to maintain its position as a global leader in plant protein, agrifood and digital agriculture, it must invest in its youth — as the success of this industry relies on them.”

Actua has taken an active role in helping ensure Canada’s youth are prepared for a future in the agrifood sector. In 2021, the organization partnered with the Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative (EMILI) and Agriculture in the Classroom Canada (AITC-C), with the support of Protein Industries Canada, to launch the Explore Digital Agriculture Program.

Since its launch, Actua has engaged more than 85,000 youth across the prairies in STEM and digital-skill-building programs, including more than 5,000 Indigenous youth.

“By teaching students about the opportunities available to them in the digital agriculture and plant-based sector, [we] are helping to strengthen and maintain Canada’s reputation as a leader in plant protein,” Carroll said. “We’re also working collaboratively to show a new generation that the digital agriculture sector is filled with potential. There are so many opportunities for youth to flourish in whatever capacity suits them.”

The opportunity to flourish is exactly what employers across the sector are hoping to provide, as well. Gord Flaten, CEO at Avena Foods, said there is a diverse selection of secure job opportunities available across Canada’s plant-based value chain—and that those opportunities are growing.

“There’s a wide variety of career options to choose from, and you can move from one job to another relatively easily,” he said. “For people who prefer hands-on work in operations, or in food safety and quality assurance, or in logistics, we have lots of interesting jobs to do, and it’s always possible to move to a different department, to a different area and to move up into supervisory and management ranks.”

Flaten stressed that, while this growth is occurring quickly, employment in the sector is more secure than it is in a lot of others. Global demand for protein, including plant-based protein, is rising, and Canada is in a prime position to supply both a significant portion of the ingredients and finished food products needed to meet that demand. Doing so, however, requires growing the country’s plant-based sector.

Photo provided by Avena Foods

Which is where the need for 17,000 new jobs over the next 10 years comes into play. If Canada is to supply 10 per cent of the ingredients for the world’s plant-based foods by 2035—as set out in The Road to $25 Billion—we need a skilled labour force to support that ingredient development, in every area from trade work to food science to digital agriculture.

“Because it’s a growing industry, Canada’s economy can grow along with the sector and the sector can contribute a lot to Canada’s economic growth,” Flaten said.