Youth employment initiative aims to invigorate sector
Text by Kelly Townsend
A job in the food and beverage industry is often far from recent graduates’ minds when starting their career. Many don’t realize that an interest in science, marketing or engineering can lead to several fulfilling and sustainable possibilities. Norm Beal, CEO, Food and Beverage Ontario (FBO), is part of a new initiative to challenge that viewpoint.
“Taste Your Future was born out of [the need] to try and drive new and young Canadians into all of the interesting career opportunities that are in our industry,” he says.
Beal is a founding member of Food and Beverage Ontario, which was conceived as the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors in 2003. As President and Founder of Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery, Beal is well versed in Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector and has seen FBO’s evolution firsthand, including its growth to more than 200 members. He has served as Chair of FBO’s board of directors and has now taken on the role of CEO. The organization’s goals revolve around fostering technological innovation, promoting employment opportunities and driving local economies.
In 2013, when the organization began its transition to becoming Food and Beverage Ontario, it undertook a massive consultation process, overseen by more than 100 industry professionals, to identify the top five problems facing the industry. A top priority soon became tackling the sector’s aging workforce.
“I think we’ve been remiss in selling the industry over the course of the last decade or two and people have misconceptions about the kind of jobs that are in the sector,” says Beal, who was Chair of the Board during the consultation process.
The timing was perfect. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has challenged the province’s agricultural industry to create 120,000 new jobs by 2020, with the expectation that 60,000 will come from the food and beverage processing sector.
Beal says there is no lack of opportunities for young people to get involved. In Ontario alone, there are 140 programs at 22 colleges, 24 programs at seven universities, as well as co-op and apprenticeship opportunities. Over the next several years, Beal says the demand for new hires out of college and university will increase 10 to 20 per cent.
The new demographic may change the industry. “Younger generations are much more interested in where their food comes from and they’re very supportive of the local food movement,” Beal says.
Taste Your Future officially launched March 2016, and Beal says the response has been overwhelming. A workshop held that month welcomed more than 70 attendees from both the sector and education programs, and was very well received. “This is something that has to have long-term sustainability and that’s what we’re really building into the model now.”