The agriculture industry in Canada is booming and Saskatchewan is uniquely capable of capitalizing on this opportunity. The province’s rich history in agriculture, knowledgeable farming communities, vast resources, and supportive government create a tremendous advantage for agtech and agri-food tech companies looking to grow or build successfully.
The acceleration of the agri-food industry comes with a high demand for skilled labour – something that is currently in short supply. Food Processing Skills Canada estimates that over 17,000 new hires are needed to fill the vacancies, and that millions of dollars are lost to the agri-food industry every year due to labour shortages.
The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) in partnership with Protein Industries Canada and Whitecap Dakota First Nation has developed the Agri-Food Processing Micro Credential program as a way to fill this gap and create more opportunities for Indigenous peoples. The program focuses on the development of essential skills and aims to create real work opportunities with industry partners to give students insight into multiple career possibilities in the food industry.
“This program opens up doors to the food industry and to further education and employment opportunities in entrepreneurship for the students,” said Derrick Sych, Program Coordinator, Trades and Industrial Programs at SIIT. “We want to make sure that post-program, the students have transferable skills to seamlessly transition into the workforce.”
SIIT partnered with Innovation Saskatchewan to pilot the program’s first two cohorts at its research and technology park in Saskatoon to provide students with a robust campus-like space and experience for learning.
“Innovation Saskatchewan is an important partner in the delivery of this exciting new program. The inclusive space that they have provided within the research and technology park for our students to come to class every day and continue to learn, grow, and feel heard and valued is very much appreciated,” said Desiree Benson, Senior Director, Academics at SIIT.
The program is currently training its second cohort of students and has already seen incredible success with three of nine students from its first cohort already hired with industry partners.
“We were excited to partner with SIIT on the Agri-Food Processing program because it is exactly what our province needs to grow ag innovation and create good jobs,” said Mike Wolsfeld, Senior Manager, Ecosystem Development at Innovation Saskatchewan. “Innovation Saskatchewan prides itself on helping organizations test new ideas that could help employ more people in the province and we want to help people take that risk.”
Crucially, the program is an opportunity to ensure Indigenous voices and perspectives are included in the future of the food-processing and agriculture sectors and that it is reflective and representative of Indigenous peoples in the industry.
“Our hope is that the impact of this program will continue to be far-reaching and that it will be a springboard for our students to share their talents and expertise with the agriculture sector moving forward and contribute to future economic growth in a meaningful way,” said Sych.
SIIT has a long history of delivering programming that is innovative, driven by market need, and that supports workforce development and capacity-building in Indigenous communities across the province. Engagement with community and industry partners is an ongoing and key part of SIIT’s approach to developing and delivering market-relevant training.
The Agri-Food Processing program is only one of a myriad ways SIIT is supporting the development and inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the tech sector.
In 2021, it launched Pawâcikêwikamik, the first Indigenous innovation accelerator of its kind in Western Canada that fosters and supports Indigenous innovation and entrepreneurship and in 2022, it launched the Pawâcikêwikamik Mobile Maker Lodge to bring training and mentorship right into Indigenous communities across the province. The accelerator has carved out a new space in Canada’s innovation landscape as Indigenous changemakers combine traditional knowledge with new technologies and applications.
SIIT is continuing to look at innovation and STEM industries as a whole and build on the success of its Agri-Food Processing program with more tech sector-specific programs designed to address the labour gaps in each industry.
“The biggest thing we have found is that there is a significant demand for skilled workers in nearly every industry. Our goal is to ensure that our students are equipped with the skills and training necessary to be able to succeed in their chosen field.” said Sych.
Visit SIIT for more information on SIIT programs, how to apply as a student, or to discuss potential partnerships.