Students, tradespeople answer the call to help struggling farms on P.E.I.

·2 min read

Farmers in need of workers are having a harder time filling labour roles as there aren't enough temporary foreign workers arriving on P.E.I. due to COVID-19 — but there are more students and tradespeople in the province filling in some job postings.

Laurie Loane, executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council, says job ads going up are generally being filled within two weeks. In previous years, it could take three or four weeks to get those jobs filled.

She credits that to the higher number of skilled tradespeople staying on the Island this summer due to travel and job restrictions.

"We have more people not travelling, and we saw this back when the fires happened in Fort McMurray — we just had more tradespeople staying at home and they were looking to fill some extra roles and get some extra cash since they weren't able to travel," Loane said.

In addition, an increased bursary for high school and post-secondary students — both Canadian and international — means there are more young people working on farms this year, Loane said.

"Some of my farms that would typically take one student, this year are taking two and three students, because there's been some extra subsidies for them, as well, for hiring students," she said, adding that she heard from one farmer who said she took on additional students to ensure they had jobs over the summer during the pandemic.

Shortage of foreign workers a 'huge issue' on some farms

However, for the farmers needing the hundreds of temporary foreign workers normally brought into the province, there is still a shortage of labourers.

"It has been slow for the farmers getting their temporary foreign workers in. I know there's been six farms struggling with trying to get their workers in, and that's a huge issue for them," Loane said.

"On the Island, we take in approximately 300 temporary foreign workers just for agriculture, for the labour, and it's tough trying to fill some of those labour jobs — especially with our cold crops."

In addition, training of staff has been difficult during the pandemic, given social distancing and other health restrictions.

For example, Loane said there is a list of about 20 workers awaiting training as Class 3 drivers.

"So hopefully in the next few weeks we will be starting our training again now that we know a little bit more about the restrictions and are able to get it set up a little bit better," she said.

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