GEAPS members attend an interactive education session on Expo Pods at the annual GEAPS conference.

Training opportunities lead to long-term benefits for agri-retailers and staff.

Agri-retail is an extremely competitive job market, and any benefits agri-retailers can provide for prospective or current employees could mean the difference between attracting and retaining talent – or going without. Training and professional development opportunities are in high demand for job seekers and long-term employees, and are integral to attracting, developing and advancing staff.

If you’re not providing these types of opportunities for your employees, your competitors will. Theresa Bolton

“It’s a very competitive market out there,” says Theresa Bolton, corporate director of recruiting at Parrish & Heimbecker. “If you’re not providing these types of opportunities for your employees, your competitors will. From the succession planning perspective, this industry – maybe a little bit more than most – is at risk of not having enough internal staff to fill the positions of people who are retiring over the next five to 10 years.”

Demand for Training

Bolton says the increased demand for training and professional development has highlighted areas where more options are needed.

“If you’re pursuing a career in agriculture, you can go to university or college and get a post-secondary education there. But after that, it would just be nice to see more training available,” she says. “Younger employees are often pursuing the operations side of the industry and there is a lack of training available in that area.”

Parrish & Heimbecker encourages staff to pursue two operations-based training opportunities: the Credential in Grain Operations Management, and the Credential in Grain Processing Management. Both courses are offered by the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS). Gordon Braun, treasurer for the GEAPS Canadian Prairies Chapter and manager of capital assets at Parrish & Heimbecker, helped develop some of the course material.

“The courses are entirely online and are open to anyone who is interested,” he says. “Each course normally takes about six weeks to complete – including the testing stage – and there are normally five or six different courses offered per month. The training is provided by experienced industry professionals who cover topics like grain facility planning, material handling, maintenance, safety and quality control.”

Braun says the specialized additional training offered by GEAPS fills an educational gap and offers multiple benefits.

“These courses give employees a greater range of knowledge, but also help them build a network,” he says. “They have to go out and talk to people from across Canada and the U.S. to get feedback and ideas when taking the courses. As well, the online format allows anyone to complete the training no matter where they’re located, and they can work on the material when they have the time. Even some of the higher-ups who take these courses say they are learning from them.”

A Variety of Needs

This example is fairly specific to grain handling operations, but it highlights one of the challenges agri-retailers face – opportunities and access to professional development that is applicable to the industry and the growth of their employees in their particular job description.

Lynda Nicol, director of member services at CAAR, says finding time and resources for staff training can be difficult for many agri-retailers, so CAAR provides its membership with options to make things easier.

“The courses that CAAR offers are customized to retailers or farmers, and are more focused than the generically available courses,” Nicol explains. “The uptake of our courses has grown significantly in the last year, as retailers recognize that they are affordably priced and tend to take less time to complete because they focus only on the information that is required by retailers. We also offer group discounts for companies that are looking to train a large number of individuals, so there are even more savings if they take advantage of that.”

The variety of courses CAAR offers reflects its diverse membership base and ensures there is valuable information available for many areas of the industry. Many of the courses they offer focus on the safe handling of crop input products like anhydrous ammonia, and Nicol says they offer safety training at both the farm and retail levels, and on testing and maintaining anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks.

While these programs provide immediate benefits for participants, CAAR also works with industry partners to encourage continuing education and avoid overlap in program delivery.

“The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program is one of the external training courses we have been encouraging retailers to consider. It’s related to fertilizer management and ensures individuals and farmers who work with fertilizer are aware of best practices,” she says. “Retailers who take the 4R training courses become designated in 4R practices, and also qualify for the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Agri-Retailer Award that is jointly offered through CAAR and Fertilizer Canada.”

Mind the Gap

These training courses not only provide staff with certification and knowledge of the industry, they also help strengthen the relationship between employees and employers. According to Nicol, giving employees opportunities to strengthen their knowledge base and ensure they understand workplace safety and efficiency can instill a sense of value in them.

“They see their employer is willing to support them and support their growth,” she says. “I would expect the individuals who work for such companies feel they are valued and respected as employees.”

While Bolton agrees, she notes that these benefits can’t be taken advantage of if employees don’t know these training opportunities exist. To address this, she encourages retailers to bridge the gap between head offices and rural staff, ensuring everyone is made aware of the programs.

“New employees in particular aren’t sure where to get information about professional development opportunities, training and a career path if it’s not readily available to them,” she says. “It’s important to ensure that onboarding of new employees includes things like that, and that regular reviews are being done so that employees who are interested in more training can easily get that information.”

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