The changing face of the agribusiness workplace

Syngenta Canada president Trevor Heck

How farmers grow crops and manage livestock is forever changing. That evolution of agriculture is also reshaping how agribusinesses operate, as companies compete for talent and aim to create a workplace to best support their business, products, and farmer customers.

Last week, Syngenta Canada opened the doors to its newly-renovated office at Guelph, Ont., to share the company’s vision and strategy for the future of its workplace. Trevor Heck, Syngenta Canada’s CEO, says the renovations really reflect the technological, generational, and social shifts that are influencing work, workforces, and workplaces.

“The project started about five years ago. We sat down as a leadership team, and we started talking about talent, because at that point in time, it was getting challenging to fill jobs,” says Heck. “We knew that in Guelph or Calgary, where our two main offices are, that we wouldn’t be able to draw all the talent from those particular markets. And we would have to start moving to a combination of having people in an office and having remote talent across Canada.”

Like all businesses, the company then had to deal with the challenges of working through COVID-19. In this video report, Heck tells RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin how the Guelph office, a state-of-the-art pilot office for Syngenta globally, is designed to provide the flexible remote work options employees have come to expect, as well as the ability to collaborate, both in-person and virtually, that a science and innovation company needs to be successful. (Story continues after the video.)

Looking around the office, it resembles more of a conference centre, with plenty of open space, conference rooms, meeting areas, a block of work stations, and very few individual offices. The company now maintains a Canadian footprint including three offices with employees located in nine provinces, and plans to apply the same vision in all its office locations.

Heck says the ability to connect also includes ensuring that farmer customers have the timely access they need to the company’s products and people. “We’re going to have people where our farmers and our retailers are, but we’re going to have to attract talent from other industries and from other markets over time.”

Heck says diversity and inclusion is also a key motivation driving the workplace changes. About 47 per cent of Syngenta’s employees are now women and the company is committed to adding more diversity. In the interview, he notes that Syngenta, like other agribusinesses, lean heavily on Canada’s agriculture-focused universities, including the neighbouring University of Guelph, for talent.

While the company works hard to attract its share of ag grads, Heck admits it’s a competitive market. He feels his company can also attract top talent from beyond the traditional pool, whether it be scientists or business administrators, and having a great workplace will give them a competitive advantage.

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