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‘Good job’ growth at Peterborough factories a positive sign

New jobs always rank high when people are asked to list their economic priorities, even during good times.

At the same time, the nature of work and the definition of a "good job" continually change.

Technology, demographics, consumer trends and trade policies are just a few of the variables that affect job creation and the shift of work opportunities between cities, provinces and countries.

Peterborough got some good employment news this week when PepsiCo Foods announced it is hiring permanent labourers for the local Quaker Oats plant.

Quaker has for decades been viewed as on-the-bubble, one of the last remaining manufacturing plants from the blue-collar heyday of the 1960s and early '70s.

The U.S. parent company came very close to shutting the entire operation down back in the 1990s. It has since moved out hundreds of office jobs and trimmed manufacturing.

In that uncertain climate, the current hiring is a positive indicator of stability. Pepsico hasn't said how many jobs will be created but is held a "job fair" Friday for prospective employees so it will be more than a handful.

And it is looking for a seven-year commitment from applicants, a strong sign the plant will be staying.

The nature of those jobs is an indicator of how the working world is changing. The starting rate is $19 an hour, or $39,500 for a $40-hour work week.

The company is up front about what workers can expect over what is essentially a seven-year contract commitment. Pay will increase $1 an hour each year, which means raises range from 5.2 per cent after Year 1 to 4 per cent after Year 6.

Someone who stays in the "general labour" job for the entire period would end up making $54,000 annually, plus benefits. The wage increases will likely outstrip inflation so there will be some getting ahead.

However, they are warned to be ready for layoffs of several weeks in what the job notice defined as a seasonal business.

For someone with a high school diploma and no interest in further education that definitely qualifies as a "good job."

It's not the job politicians have in mind when they talk about shifting to an information economy. And it's not the job Peterborough can build its future on. But it's a foundational job for a major employer, and therefore necessary.

Quaker/PepsiCo's continued existence reflects one trend in the current job climate: food-related employment is seen as a growth area.

The city's other large-scale food business, Minute Maid, also recently announced new work. Its parent company, Coca-Cola Canada, will spend $85 million to install a new production line for ultra-filtered milk.

The company expects to hire 35 workers in 2020. If Fairlife milk sells well in Canada more jobs could follow.

Those will be closer to old-school industrial production work – running machines on a line – than the high-tech, "information age" work politicians like to talk about.

Opportunities for smaller, new-age employers are coming. The Cleantech Commons green industrial park at Trent University is being developed jointly by Trent and the City of Peterborough with them in mind. Empty space at GE Canada's disappearing Park St. operation might also attract entrepreneurs.

Production jobs are not as exciting, but are equally necessary.

That's something candidates should remember as the October municipal election approaches.