Educational institutions ramp up pathways for careers in aquaculture as industry faces growing labour pains.
By Fabian Dawson
Aquaculture’s strong production outlook is expected to significantly increase the need for more workers in Canada between now and 2025, latest government estimates show.
When the full value-chain of economic activity is considered, Canadian farmed seafood generated a total of $7.7 billion in economic activity throughout the economy, $3.9 billion in GDP, and $2.29 billion dollars in wages for more than 56,500 Canadian workers in 2017.
However, the industry is facing a widening labour gap, and the inability to find enough workers, is estimated to have cost the industry $57 million, or 6% of sales, according to data from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council.
The council predicted that within 10 years, the labour gap will widen, with 1,300 jobs going unfilled by 2025, just in the primary production sector, which does not take into account jobs in the seafood processing industry.
To meet the demand for aquaculture workers, universities and colleges in British Columbia are ramping up courses to fuel the job demand.
The University of B.C. is currently developing a new graduate certificate program in aquaculture.
“The certificate will fill a gap in providing highly qualified personnel to meet the needs of the aquaculture and related industries in B.C,” said Christine Scaman, Associate Dean, Academic, UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems.
“We will be able to announce a start date once the proposal has obtained the required approvals,” she told SeaWestNews.
There are about 80 students currently enrolled at UBC’s three (3) on-going aquaculture related courses – Aquaculture and the Environment, Intensive Fish Production and Fish Health.
Professor Mark Noyon, Co-Chair of the Fisheries and Aquaculture programs at the Vancouver Island University (VIU) said they are also looking at designing new educational pathways to feed the industry.
Noyon, who has been teaching at VIU since 1994 said the prospects for jobs for his graduates are very high both in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.
“Its more than we can supply,” Noyon told SeaWestNews.
VIU has an international reputation in fisheries and aquaculture applied research, technology transfer, training, and education. It is one of 12 specialized facilities in Canada that offer formal aquaculture training.
The university’s proximity to B.C. fish and shellfish farms off Vancouver Island and the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, provides for direct interaction with potential employers throughout the study period said Noyon.
North Island College (NIC), which has four campuses on Vancouver Island, this year launched a new Aquaculture Technician certificate in response to the industry’s call for workers with broader field skills.
The new certificate includes an updated curriculum, more occupational health and safety training and the unique ability to ladder into BC’s first advanced production-training program, the Aquaculture Technician diploma, scheduled to begin at NIC in the fall of 2019.
Dr. Jesse Ronquillo, a world-renowned aquaculture researcher and educator, who developed the curriculum said: “these programs prepare students for a range of industry jobs, from hatchery to farm-site work. The certificate gives students training in a variety of aquaculture species including finfish, shellfish and algal production techniques.”
“We are constantly looking for people committed to raising healthy salmon in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner,” said Alina Constantin, Human Resources Manager for Grieg Seafood, which has over 150 employees in more than a half-dozen coastal and aboriginal communities currently.
Many of Grieg’s employees have transitioned from other careers including commercial fishing, self-employment, restaurateurs or forestry, to join aquaculture.
“The aquaculture industry provides very good jobs with great benefit packages,” Constantin told SeaWestNews, adding Grieg is currently looking for an aquaculture technician, an assistant barge manager and an automated net washing technician.
The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) said that as the sector grows, new positions are available every week across the country.
Many of these positions are in rural areas where there is a lack of recruits due to an aging workforce – or to the exodus of skilled workers to other regions of the country.
As a result, there is currently a shortage of skilled labour in the farm production and post-production processing side of operations, it stated.
Many on-farm aquaculture jobs require specialized skills in business, technology, science, communications, or fish husbandry; these skills can usually only be obtained from a combination of formal and on-the-job training, according to CAIA.
“Industry is therefore actively recruiting personnel from around the globe, including: Poland, Northern Africa, South America and Asia,” the organization states on its website.
IMAGE CREDIT- Vancouver Island University