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“You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience until you have a job. Once you solve that problem, you are home free.”

—National Baseball Hall of Fame sportscaster Jack Buck

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Program (YESP) was created to help students acquire the skills and experience they need to land that first job once they complete their studies.

This year, the federal government allotted $3.7 million to subsidize about 300 agricultural jobs open to youth between the ages of 15 and 30. These include full-time, part-time, casual and seasonal job positions that must be a minimum of three months in duration. Individual grants cover 50 per cent of a participant’s wage to a maximum of $14,000.

Eligible employers include farmers, agri-businesses, Indigenous organizations, research facilities and industry associations as well as provincial and territorial governments. The amount of funding available climbs to 80 per cent for Indigenous job seekers and organizations. The program also offers incentives for participants who face employment barriers such as having a physical or mental health disability, being a visible minority, a single parent or living in a remote location, among other factors. Preference will be given to youth facing barriers to employment.

Tristen Norman, a YESP graduate, was hired as an intern in the Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI) crop research program, which focuses on testing crop protection products for input manufacturers. Norman was 23 at the time and in the final year of his bachelor of applied science agri-business when he applied and was accepted for the YESP-supported position in 2020. He took the educational opportunity very seriously. “These people are investing in me. I want to also invest in myself and better myself,” said Norman.

His field duties included carrying out test plot research that entailed pesticide application and weed evaluation among additional activities. He was also required to present his findings to his colleagues who included his supervisors, researchers and OCCI industry partners. Norman felt his public speaking skills were enhanced by his work experience.

Norman’s supervisor was Shabeg Briar, OCCI agronomy research scientist and head of its crops team. Briar said Norman acquired solid practical skills during the eight months he worked in the position. These included the ability to carry out fast-paced teamwork. Given the experience he gained in the OCCI internship, Briar put Norman’s name forward as a candidate for a research assistant position with Bayer CropScience the following summer. The company partners with Olds College on various research projects. “He was interviewed and hired for the position immediately because he was quite prepared, skilled and they were looking for somebody like him,” said Briar.

Norman said the hands-on ag jobs made possible by YESP provide excellent opportunities for students who want to gain new skills and pursue careers in agriculture. “It makes a difference when there’s a program investing in you like that.”

The program’s intake period is typically open from early to late spring and interested applicants may sign up for its automated email alerts. Current projects must be completed by March 31, 2023.  

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