As much of rural Alberta copes with shrinking populations and an ongoing labour shortage, the answer to our prayers may already be close at hand.
 
"There's immigrants and refugees that are coming from agriculture backgrounds and, on top of that, there are immigrants and refugees that maybe don't have an agriculture background but they're starting their life brand new again and they're open to whatever opportunities might be available for them," noted Anila Lee-Yuen, CEO of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary.
 
The resettlement service is looking to set up a bridge program to help reintroduce Syrian refugees and other immigrants to farming in Canada. The bridge program would provide both language and workplace training for the aspiring farmers.
 
"This is one way to be able to meet the demands of our labour market," pointed out Lee-Yuen. "Instead of having to bring in more people that could potentially work in agriculture, we've got people here already. Let's see if there's an opportunity to connect them to the right employers."
 
She estimates about a fifth of the 10,000 newcomers who walk through the Centre's door every year would be interested.
 
The Centre is currently in talks with various agriculture groups, a post-secondary institution and Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper about the program, which could come as early as spring of 2017.
 
"What's going to be important if this program is to work is to get the buy-in from community members," maintained Lee-Yuen. "We want newcomers to feel welcome, so in whichever community that they're going to be in, having those kind of conversations and talking to industry and talking to community members, we're hoping that we'll be able to have the communities embrace newcomers coming in."
 
For more information, visit the Centre for Newcomers website or call them at 403-569-3325.
 

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