BY ZOLTAN VARADI • PHOTO COURTESY OF PALETTE SKILLS
An innovative new Prairie program gives skilled, mid-career professionals the opportunity to refresh their occupational journey and injects much-needed talent into the agri-business field.
“That is a major gap right now across Canada, and specifically in the Prairies,” said Ednali Fertuck-Zehavi, Palette Skills national program manager in charge of the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist Program. “What’s needed [in agriculture are] those mid-level specialists and managers to take the industry to the next level.” The initiative hosts studentss in Alberta and Saskatchewan three times a year.
“Most of our candidates are in the middle of their career,” she said. “They are successful and have an average of 15 years’ experience. Most have advanced degrees—a master’s or a PhD, but something happened in their career, and they were not able to find their place.”
Take Ruhid Mirazayev, for example, who left Saskatchewan to pursue an education in economics. Upon completion of his studies, he settled in Toronto and secured a job in banking. Yet, he felt undervalued in the often impersonal thrum of Canada’s financial capital.
Fertuck-Zehavi, an old friend, suggested he consider Palette Skills. Although he was raised on a small family farm, Mirazayev considered his ag knowledge to be quite limited. But, disillusioned with his existing career path, he enrolled in the first Palette Skills cohort in the spring of 2022. He dived headfirst into a crash course focused on implementation and management of advanced technology in agribusiness. This included everything from the employment of drone technology for farm applications and management skills of a much different sort than are practiced on Bay Street.
“My focus was to learn about Prairie crops, and we also learned about soil, pest and fertilizer management,” said Mirazayev. His financial background and economic statistics knowledge were transferable to agriculture. “When I work with machine learning—with data sets—the machine doesn’t understand if it is agricultural or financial data. That’s why you need an expert who can show you, say, whether 20 millilitres of precipitation is good or bad. I needed the mentors from Palette Skills to help me make meaningful insights for agricultural data sets.”
Palette Skills participants also receive access to prospective employers through career events such as Ag in Motion and Canada’s Farm Show. It was at the latter, that Mirazayev met his current employer. Impressed with Mirazayev’s drone project demonstration, a representative of Global Ag Risk Solutions arranged a formal interview, and he secured a position as an agriculture data scientist with the company.
He’s thrilled with the opportunity. “I’m doing something meaningful, and I’m very excited by the projects I get to work on. I am very proud I came back to the Prairies and that I can contribute to agriculture in Canada. This was a really good decision for me. It changed my career and my entire life.”
Mirazayev’s sentiments echo Fertuck-Zehavi’s promise to future participants: they will become part of the agriculture community. “It’s not just an upskilling program or training program or a job matching program,” she said. “It’s two months of life-changing experience.”
For more information, visit paletteskills.org.