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Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s (AAF) Green Certificate Program allows senior high students in the province to select an agriculture-focused career path. The program delivers apprenticeship-style agriculture production training that allows students to complete practical work placements in on-farm operations outside school hours.

Choosing from one of 14 areas focused on animal and crop production, they work 400 hours in these extra-curricular jobs. Training program options include irrigated and non-irrigated field crop production, livestock production, greenhouse production and beekeeping. The curriculum for each area has been developed cooperatively by AAF and ag industry leaders.

The coaching and mentoring component of the certification process allows students to formalize their on-farm work experience, adding a list of acquired agricultural skills to their resumes. Graduates receive 16 diploma credits and are “work ready,” having developed proficiency in specific farm roles.

“The program is applied learning,” said co-ordinator Raelene Mercer. “Industry is really teaching kids how to take what they learn and apply it to real life. We work with the different industries to identify what the skill requirements are to work at these operations.” For example, crop production students learn about crop rotation, pest management and preparing seeding equipment as well as maintaining and operating harvest equipment.

Green Certificate students also complete agriculture safety instruction. This prerequisite teaches them to recognize hazards and manage safety risks.

Paige Foisy graduated from the program’s greenhouse production track in 2018. She carried out her practical training while working for her mother Debbie Foisy at Deb’s Greenhouse just north of Edmonton. “It was amazing to learn all of these other things I wouldn’t have otherwise learned,” said Foisy.

These new skills included ordering inventory, checking the pH of solutions, mixing and applying fertilizer and managing a work schedule. Foisy said she has become much more interested in her greenhouse work and the skills she has acquired have made her a better employee. She recently enrolled in the Norquest College business administration certification program while continuing to work at the greenhouse.

Debbie helped develop the greenhouse curriculum her daughter studied. The exercise forced her to think through what industry needs from graduates and focus on the what students need to know. “I am a better employer having had to create the competency document for greenhouse production,” she said.

Students also develop soft skills such as effective communication and planning. These are easily transferable to any work setting. “There are many more skills I learned that weren’t directly related to the greenhouse,” said Foisy. “I am better with customer service and with problem solving.”

While the program is available to all senior high students, 300 schools now participate. Interested students should contact their principal or guidance counsellor. Students must find their own work placements. Agricultural professionals able to provide a work placement opportunity are encouraged to contact the Green Certificate lead at their local high school or get in touch with one of the program’s five regional co-ordinators.

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