A new program from a Winnipeg-based organization will match retired military soldiers with jobs in the country's agriculture sector.

Operation Ag Careers, organized in part by the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers (CAAR), aims to career-match soldiers retiring from service and entering civilian life with new careers in the agriculture sector – both on and off the farm.

"We've been working on the concept for the better part of a couple years," said CAAR President and CEO Delaney Ross Burtnack. "It's been fascinating working with them. There are so many transferrable skills."

Ross Burtnack said she has heard an estimated 5,000 members of the military retire each year. She is unsure how many will be interested in Operation Ag Careers but said they will take as many as they can.

"These folks are leaving a position between 28 and 35 years of age [after] serving their country and looking for something meaningful to do with another 20 or 30 years of employment."

"These folks are leaving a position between 28 and 35 years of age [after] serving their country and looking for something meaningful to do with another 20 or 30 years of employment." - Delaney Ross Burtnack

The idea, she said, came after meeting a reserve military member who joined CAAR. Ross Burtnack said they realized after speaking with the member that the military was an untapped resource of skilled workers.

"Our members, their number one concern is finding skilled employment," Ross Burtnack said. "There was this gap between people needing meaningful work and us looking for people who want it."  

She estimates 50,000 new jobs in agriculture across Canada will be created in the next five years – both on and off farm – on top of vacancies that already exist. Some estimate those vacancies to be in excess of 25,000 jobs. 

"The constant, constant challenge for our members is finding good people," she said. "It's already top of the list in terms of need and there is going to be growing need going forward."

CAAR is hoping to kick off the recruitment campaign as early as January 2016, Ross Burtnack said.

Suited to industry

Ross Burtnack said there is a lot of overlap between the agriculture industry and military, making agriculture jobs a good fit for retiring military members.

"They are highly trainable people, very committed, passionate. I feel agriculture is really along that line as well," she said. "They understand and appreciate the small town culture," Ross Burtnack said.

 "They understand and appreciate the small town culture" - Delaney Ross Burtnack 

And it's not just the on-farm jobs.

Ross Burtnack said there is a big need in off-farm jobs as well. Jobs in the agri-business sector, manufacturing, research and education are also in demand, she said.

Logistics, drivers, sales people and many other business positions are also needing workers.

Manitoba farmers' group interested in concept

It's a program one Manitoba farm group finds particularly interesting.  

Dan Mazier, president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers, believes military members have a good skill set that would make the transition over to the farm easier.

"Everything from the paperwork and the technology that they are working with in the military right through to what we are working on with big equipment," Mazier said. "I wouldn't say it's not high stress but I think it would come second nature to them." 

He said the program could potentially be good news for Westman due to the proximity of the Shilo base to several smaller farming communities. 

"If they are retiring, they don't have to leave the community and they can still be a part of that community," he said.

Mazier is hoping to hear more details about the program at a conference early in the new year.