If our experience navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything this past year, I believe that now more than ever, the investment in young people is vital for furthering the success of the Canadian beef industry. Our sector faces numerous challenges ranging from succession planning to consumer perceptions, access to financing and bankable business risk management tools, in addition to new hurdles arising from the pandemic. All these issues paint a clear picture showing that we must prepare our young producers and industry partners to be able to manoeuvre these obstacles to continue to drive the industry’s growth and profitability for years to come.
Last summer, we proudly celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s (CCA) Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) Mentorship Program, where over 120 CYL graduates have been mentored by hand-picked industry leaders and have gone on to pursue excellence in their careers. In 2010, the program was introduced as a way to help provide tools and resources for young people in the beef industry to gain the experience, knowledge and industry contacts they need to succeed. Many have acquired skills which have no doubt helped them navigate throughout the challenging times this past year has brought us. You can watch a video commemorating the CYL program anniversary posted on the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s YouTube channel.
One of the silver linings from the pandemic is how it has allowed us as an industry to fully utilize online tools and resources. Technology has opened up more learning opportunities to CYL participants through a “virtual engagement” webinar series hosted in partnership with program sponsors. This has allowed CYLs to take in valuable content while having the opportunity to network within their peer group and with industry partners, exploring topics like herd health protocols, succession planning, government relations, business risk management, animal nutrition, precision ag technology and more.
Program participants further elevate their knowledge of the industry and gain valuable leadership skills by connecting regularly with their mentors and attending a variety of industry events. While many travel opportunities and events have been postponed or shifted to a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, traditionally program alumni are also offered unique international travel opportunities in the beef industry which we hope graduates will be able to take advantage of in the future when travel conditions improve. The experience is also a rewarding one for the mentor. It’s exciting to see the number of industry leaders who want to reach a hand back to help young leaders build their careers in the beef industry. It offers some nostalgia and the opportunity to learn from the mentee, as I had the privilege of experiencing first-hand when I was a mentor in 2017.
Young people newly entering the industry, or working to maintain and grow their operations, face numerous challenges which have stood the test of time. These include access to capital and affordable land to running profitable operations, limited mentorship opportunities and the overwhelming uncertainty of knowing where to start. Over the years, watching these young leaders work to overcome these obstacles leading to professional and personal growth is gratifying, all of which would not be possible without the support and training provided by the mentors.
Attracting the next generation to our industry remains a key priority to ensuring we have a robust workforce for years to come. Opportunities like CYL are helping attract young people to the industry and give them the tools they need to contribute to the success of the Canadian agriculture industry, regardless if they have roots in a farming environment.
Each year, CYL program applications are open from the beginning of January to the end of March, where 24 semi-finalists are then selected from an impressive pool of applicants from across the country involved in different parts of the beef industry such as cow-calf production, feedlot production, research, post-secondary studies, finance, communications and more. Semi-finalists are invited to compete in the annual CYL Selections event held in conjunction with the Canadian Beef Industry Conference. There, they participate in judged roundtable discussions centred around timely industry topics. From this event, 16 program participants are chosen to participate in the program each year and are paired with a hand-picked industry leader for a nine-month mentorship opportunity in each participant’s specified area of interest in the beef industry, as well as awarded a $2,000 budget to put towards learning opportunities of their choosing. Mentorship focus areas have ranged from sustainable ranching to risk management and policy development research, just to name a few.
We are thankful for the generosity of the donors who make this program possible. Funding for the CYL program is made available through its foundation partners — Cargill, MNP, McDonald’s Canada and Zoetis. The program also receives support from gold sponsors — Farm Credit Canada, New Holland and RBC Future Launch — along with program sponsorship from the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association. CCA and program participants are extremely grateful for the support received by these generous partners.
There is still time to encourage a young person you know to apply for the 2021 CYL program. Applications are open until the end of March. Find out more by visiting cattlemensyoungleaders.com.
With the uncertainty and trials brought on by the pandemic, this year may be an ideal year for mentors to help young people manoeuvre challenges and have a support system and resources to offer encouragement and guidance. I wish the best of luck to all applicants.