Here’s some food for thought:
Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector is the largest in Canada – accounting for 37% of the industry’s revenue in the country. The sector has more than 4,000 establishments in the province, employing over 125,000 people.
Yet, it’s an industry most people don’t often think about. The average person goes to their local grocery store with full shelves but doesn’t give too much thought to how it gets there.
“I think people just take it for granted,” says Chris Conway, CEO of Food and Beverage Ontario (FBO). “Not many people think about how it gets there. But that’s also a good thing because that’s a sign of the resiliency of the industry.”
Though resilient, the tough truth is that Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector is struggling to find people to work in all of the industry’s jobs, whether it’s frontline production, skilled positions or c-suite and corporate roles. Such an essential industry needs people from all skill levels and backgrounds to keep going and growing.
Food and Beverage Ontario knew it had a role to play in helping the industry solve this problem. There had already been many excellent studies and reports identifying the issue, so they wanted to provide a solution.
That solution was CareersNOW!
“There’s no shortage of material identifying the issue. But then how many programs are really doing something about it in a rubber-hits-the-road sense?” says Conway. “CareersNOW! is really doing that.”
CareersNOW! is FBO’s workforce development initiative for the province’s vibrant and growing food and beverage manufacturing industry. The program is giving jobseekers and recent graduates an opportunity to explore the diverse and fulfilling careers in the industry and connect with employers who are looking for people just like them.
CareersNOW! also gives jobseekers access to free events like virtual job fairs and mentorship sessions, so they can learn about the careers possibilities in the industry directly from those who are doing it.
And for jobseekers and employers, CareersNOW! offers access to 14 Job Ready & New Hire Skills Training courses designed for the food and beverage processing industry. These courses were curated by Food Processing Skills Canada specifically for CareersNOW! They cover everything from soft skills, like working with others, to more industry-specific skills like allergens and workplace safety. Upon the completion of each course, members get a nationally recognized microcredential certificate. Once they complete all 14 courses, jobseekers receive a graduation package including an official transcript and certificate of completion.
“It’s exactly what’s been called for in all this research,” says Conway. “I think it’s an amazing program.”
“From a societal perspective, there’s such a disconnect right now between where jobs are, where people think jobs are. There’s nothing bad about connecting people with good jobs that pay good money in an industry like this. I think everything about this initiative is good.”
Since launching back in May 2021, CareersNOW! has received great feedback from both employers and jobseekers. Employers have been looking for resources like this for a long time, and job seekers are discovering opportunities in an industry they never considered before. CareersNOW! is also forging connections with post-secondary institutions across the country.
“What’s interesting is that, to some degree, this thing is almost taking on a life of its own,” says Conway. “There’s been such a demand for this. We’re seeing connections that we didn’t anticipate.”
Like many other initiatives spearheaded by non-profit groups like FBO, CareersNOW! is a pilot project. But as Conway points out, CareersNOW! is different in the sense that it only got a one-year pilot, while generally, government-funded pilot projects get between three to five years.
“A year is literally getting the infrastructure set up and getting it up and running,” says Conway. “So when you look at the employer and jobseeker online employment platforms for example, we’ve only had a few months of that being fully operational.”
But with the CareersNOW! up and running, the next step is to continue to improve and build out the initiative to its full potential.
But to do that they need more time — and more funding.
“The next piece of this is analyzing data and understanding what’s working, what’s not working and what can we change a bit, but we need more runway to do this stuff,” says Conway. “For an industry this size, to really have a meaningful impact, to have CareersNOW! resonate the way we want it to we’re going to need more time.”
Food and Beverage Ontario has applied for funding to have the pilot extended. With a successful first year coming to an end soon, Conway is hopeful that CareersNOW! will continue to grow. Looking ahead to 2022, the goal is to get even more employers involved in CareersNOW!
“We would really like to build it out the resources. What I mean by that is more engagement from the companies and not just member companies. This isn’t exclusive to FBO. Anybody who’s in the space who wants to get involved with this can,” says Conway.
“The idea is truly to serve the industry, so the more people we could get in the better. My hope is for more corporate engagement, and more of the associations across the food and beverage processing spectrum to get involved.”