by SUSAN MANN
There’s a shortage of skilled labour capable of maintaining food-processing equipment and Ontario’s newly appointed Jobs and Prosperity Council needs to address it, says a food industry spokesman.
Steve Peters, executive director of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors, says the food and beverage manufacturing sector is a major contributor to Ontario’s economy. It contributes 90,000 direct jobs and is a $39 billion a year industry for the province. The alliance represents more than 650 food and beverage processing companies in Ontario.
He described the sector as the farmers’ best customer with 65 per cent of Ontario agricultural production being purchased by food and beverage companies in the province.
“One of the things that needs to happen is the profile needs to be raised regarding job opportunities within the food and beverage sector,” he says, noting there’s a perception that food and drink manufacturing jobs are dirty and poorly paid but that is very far from reality.
Peters says the council should also look at programs food and beverage manufacturers could use to upgrade their equipment. And it should look at how a better relationship between farmers, processors and retailers can be created.
The government announced the formation of the council in this year’s budget and recently appointed 13 members plus chair Gordon Nixon, president and CEO of RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, and its subsidiaries. The council will report directly to Premier Dalton McGuinty and have its first meeting later this month.
Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., is the only food manufacturer’s representative on the council.
Peters says his appointment is a recognition by the government of the industry’s importance.
The council’s mission is to generate new ideas and approaches for improving Ontario’s long-term productivity and competitiveness. It’s made up of leaders from business, labour and the research community. BF