Employment Program Offers Pathways To Equine Industry

Horse and groom

With an increasing number of want ads on horse industry job boards, there is no denying the equine industry is clamouring for suitable employees. According to three facilitators of the Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program (OEEEP), this is a win-win program for those looking to embark on a career with horses, and for employers looking for enthusiastic workers with a basic knowledge of horse care.

The successful OEEEP has provided free training to just under 200 participants and provided wage incentives for horse industry employers all over the province. 

Facilitated by Equine Guelph, the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) and VPI, Inc., OEEEP has received funding for a third year from the Ontario Government. 

“As Milton’s population grows four times faster than the provincial average, our government is working with labour and industry partners to open up new training and apprenticeship opportunities for local workers and jobseekers,” said David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “That's why our government is proud to support OHHA’s Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program with an investment of over $2.4 million through our Skills Development Fund, which will open up more opportunities for local workers to learn about the in-demand careers in this exciting industry."

Training sessions for participants will be offered from April 22 until September 2024. Employers are encouraged to sign up now for the opportunity to hire from the program and receive wage incentives up to 50 per cent for up to $5,000 while their employees settle in and learn the ropes of their new positions.

Brian Tropea of OHHA has been travelling far and wide speaking with Ontario horse farm operators to help resolve their staffing issues and opening doors for those keen to work with horses.

“It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience,” said Tropea. “Life-changing is a frequent comment from grateful participants of the program, ranging in age from 15 to in their 50s. They have come from all walks of life – looking for their first job, mid-life career change, new to the country and starting a new career, and even people who have been involved with horses but just had not yet realized the potential to earn a living doing what they love.

“The feedback from employers has been equally encouraging. They exclaim how eager to learn the program graduates are. The online training from Equine Guelph prepares them with a basic level of horse safety, care and nutrition knowledge and whets their appetite to learn more! Of course, receiving a portion of the wages back comes up as a great incentive for employers,” said Tropea.

To those wondering if OEEEP is a good fit for them, Tropea encourages them to reach out for a chat.

“We all have a responsibility if we want to see the equine industry succeed, to ensure there is a work force to support the horses. It’s not enough to sit back and say there is a lack of qualified people to work. People need to be willing to spend the time to invest or we are going to continue to struggle.”

Participants receive training in job preparedness and job interview skills from VPI and participate in six weeks of online learning from Equine Guelph before the placement program begins, matching potential employers with new participants. The training is all free thanks to the partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. Participants are unemployed or under-employed, residents of Ontario and eligible to work in Canada.

“Graduates have found employment at riding stables, racetracks, therapeutic riding centres, breeding farms, equine veterinary hospitals and the list goes on,” said Nancy Fisher, Vocational Services Manager at VPI Employment Services. “VPI has been providing employment programs in Ontario for over 30 years. Our team has received so many heart-warming stories from people saying the career change, and opportunity to nurture horses, has not only changed their lifestyle but has improved their whole lives.”

Program graduate Colleen Clarke said, “I had zero horse or farm experience! The program provided a great ratio of detailed information about all aspects of the horse from anatomy, diet and care to safety and environments. I felt confident to be able to apply hands-on what I learned online.”

Clarke loves her new job at Spring Farm, a Thoroughbred breeding facility in Granton, Ont. Now confidently assisting with horse breeding, foal care, basic first aid for minor injuries, training yearlings, she has even presented them at the Premium Yearling Sale at Woodbine Racetrack.

“The OEEEP program allowed me to realize my lifelong dream of working with horses," said Clarke. "I recommend it to anyone who, like me, is starting with no experience but has a passion to work in the horse industry.”

Clarke talks more about how the OEEEP made her dream of working with horses a reality in the audio/video below.

The OEEEP graduates are getting the best possible start with education from Equine Guelph, a world leader in online education, at the University of Guelph, for horse enthusiasts around the globe for 20 years. The six-week interactive training course goes over horse health, grooming, management and welfare.

The participants attend virtual/live class meetings during the course on various topics, including expert guest speakers on priority topics, while being encouraged to explore career paths. Horse health, welfare and facility safety are important topics covered through live presentations, videos, discussions and extra resources.

Equine Guelph director Gayle Ecker commented on the wonderful enthusiasm of the participants and how rewarding it has been to hear all the positive feedback: “Equine Guelph is proud to be an integral part of the OEEEP connecting newcomers to industry. Working together, this is a win for the participants, a win for the facilities and a big win for our equine industry and its future.”

Employers can learn about the program by clicking here and contact Brian Tropea at [email protected] for more information.

Participants can sign up for one of the four offering in 2024 by clicking here.

(With files from Equine Guelph)

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