Sowing Opportunities for Growth: Pilot Agricultural Project

NOTE: The following is a feature story on a pilot program for the agriculture industry and young people.

For Robert Bedard of Scotian Gold in Coldbrook, Kings Co., it was a win-win opportunity he couldn’t pass up: the chance to train students to work in the agricultural field and have them as dedicated employees for five weeks, all with help from the province to pay their salaries.

“We were so pleased to offer young students an opportunity to gain work experience, build their confidence, and develop new skills,” said Mr. Bedard. “Supporting our youth and our community is part of our co-operative values.”

The province launched a project this summer that matched youth in care and dependents of Employment Supports and Income Assistance clients with employers in the agricultural sector. The goals were to help youth build valuable work experience and help fill the need for workers in the province’s agricultural sector.

“When we approached our agricultural members to support this project, there was no hesitation,” said Dianne Kelderman, CEO of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council. “They were all keen to give young people an opportunity.

“From apple orchards, to animal care, to learning about the science behind seed crops, retail, customer service and farm safety, young people had an opportunity to gain work experience and make a few dollars.”

That enthusiasm was echoed by the students, who learned new skills and gained work experience during the summer.

“I’d definitely recommend this project to other youth,” said Katelyn, who completed a work term in Kentville. “There are many struggles for teens looking to find jobs and working while they’re enrolled in school. This project removed those struggles, and made it easy for us to get work.”

This program was much more than a job or a few dollars in students’ pockets. It was about working hard, and learning the value of earning a dollar. While they earned valuable work experience, they were also gaining life experience.

For Taylor, the project was all about options. “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn about farming, but it was a positive experience. It made me feel good, and it really opened my eyes to things I might want to do career-wise. I was able to gain experience working on a local farm, where I learned farm safety skills. The farmer has since hired me to do odd jobs, which is great.”

The Department of Community Services wanted to offer a new program that would help youth in care and dependents of Employment Supports and Income Assistance clients break the cycle of poverty by helping them find work in a sector that needs it. Employers were offered wage subsidies to help pay the salaries of the students. Some employers decided to fully cover their salaries, while others took subsidies based on their financial needs. The department covered costs such as transportation and work clothes to help set the youth up for success.

“It was so great to see them learn, grow, and develop their skills during the summer,” said Ms. Kelderman. “This was more than a summer job. It was a life-changing experience for many. When our employers say they would do it again that, to me, is a big success for these youth.”