The PEI Farm Technician Apprenticeship program, which is unique in Canada, helps to address the demand for a skilled, sustainable, agricultural workforce on PEI.
The program was developed by the PEI Agriculture Sector Council in coordination with the PEI Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee, and in consultation with the Nova Scotia Agriculture College, which is now part of Dalhousie University.
Tracy Kittilsen, Manager of Extended Learning at Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, and Laurie Loane, Executive Director, PEI Agriculture Sector Council, work together to continue development of the program.
Since 2009, more than 90 Apprentices have come through the block release training program, and 25 are registered as Blue Seal Technicians. “This program would not be successful without the farm employers who believed in it, and the board members who supported it,” says Laurie.
“PEI is leading the way in agriculture apprenticeship training, and now Nova Scotia is moving towards the adoption of a farm apprenticeship program as well,” says Dr. David Gray, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture.
The Farm Tech Program is a two-year registered apprenticeship program offering hands-on experience on a farm gaining skills with a farm mentor. Apprentices also participate in five weeks of in-class training on PEI delivered by instructors from Extended Learning, Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture. The annual intake of the program began in January.
The program teaches skills such as crop production, pesticide application, food safety, production of potatoes, forages and other field crops, shop skills, preventative maintenance, tractor safety, communications, occupational health and safety, soil and nutrient management, and much more.
After the program is complete, Apprentices write the Certificate of Qualification exam for Farm Technicians. Individuals with extensive practical work experience in farming may apply to challenge the certificate of qualification exam based on their years of experience.
“Farmers are always looking for employees,” says Darrell Wallace, Chair of the PEI Agriculture Sector Council. “The Farm Technician designation looks awfully good on a resumé. That skill set means a lot to employers.”
Employer values the program
Four years ago, Patti Baird Gill was the farm manager at Indian River farms. “Some of the employees who wanted to take the Farm Tech program were concerned that they did not have their GED. Some had learning disabilities.
“Many had been out of school for a long time, and were worried about going back. But they all loved it. The program empowered them and gave them confidence in what they were doing. They were encouraged to earn their GED, which lead them to success in other programs through the PEIAGSC such as Class 3, Forklift, and more.
“Employers want their employees to understand what to do and why you do it. Many employees did not grow up on farms, and farming techniques have changed so much. The Farm Tech program helps them get that information.”
Basil Attwood, Rollo Bay Holdings Ltd., was in the first graduating class in 2012. “The Farm Tech program is fantastic. Thanks to the program, I moved from a general labourer to food safety supervisor on a farm with about 40 to 60 employees. It has been a rewarding experience.”
Willie Brander graduated from the Farm Tech program in 2016. “The program gave me a whole new outlook,” says Willie. “We understood more about plant diseases, and now we know what to look for in the field.”
In order to earn their Blue Seal as a Farm Technician, participants needed their grade 12. While taking the Farm Tech program, Willie also earned his GED in five weeks while working on the school subjects during lunch breaks.
Willie has stepped away from the farm and now works at a fertilizer business. “If I would not have taken the program and earned my GED, I probably would not have even thought to apply for the different jobs I have had. The program allowed me to branch out to different aspects of agriculture.”
Tuition for the Farm Technician Apprenticeship Program can be 100 percent subsidized by SkillsPEI. Applicants must be EI eligible and have 1,000 hours work experience in the agriculture industry. For more information about SkillsPEI, visit www.skillspei.ca.
For more information about the Farm Technician Apprenticeship program, contact Laurie Loane at 902-892-1091, email [email protected].