My initial answer would be “Where do you want him or her to come from?”
Before I started my career at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) as an Agricultural Technologies instructor, I was a precision farming specialist at a local co-op.
While searching online, I saw a job posting for a precision technician and thought it sounded interesting, and I liked technology, so I applied for the job.
When I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Ag Business and Crop and Soil Science, I had no formal education or experience with precision technologies as it was not part of the curriculum at the college level. I excelled in my position as a precision specialist due to the soft skills that were instilled in me from my parents and my willingness to learn.
So when I ask, “Where do you want your next hire to come from?” it’s a serious question. Many precision employers have said they want new employees who are hard working, ambitious, good communicators, quick learners, etc. But what level of education should a new employee possess?
Would an employer require a potential employee have a technical diploma, associates or bachelors degree for a position and possess those “soft skills?” Or, could a candidate coming out of high school who has the same desired traits be considered as a potential employee as well?
The traits I listed above are the responses I get every time I ask an employer what they are looking for in an employee. Work ethic and ambition are all-important skills. However, those are largely personality-based traits.
“My advice is talk to your local schools. Help them design a curriculum based on industry needs in precision ag…”
The educational system has a difficult time teaching a person those traits, as those are qualities a person learns while growing up. However, education does help individuals develop those communication and customer service skills through various learning activities during an individual’s college career to make them successful and employable.
One benefit to employers is that precision farming education is still developing across the country. This leaves the opportunity for you, as employers and experts, to work in tandem with your local colleges and universities telling them what type of knowledge base you want in your new employees.
You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to shaping the education for precision employees of the future. Schools around you want your input.
We want to hear from employers who hire students to make sure the content we are teaching is relevant. And instructors, we are writing curriculum based on what they believe is important. Because of this, your input is very valuable to us.
My goal for the precision agriculture technician diploma program offered at FVTC is not to have students leave the program as an expert in their field or skilled on only one brand of precision technology. Instead, I want my students to have exposure to the many areas of precision farming with a base knowledge that will allow them to accelerate their learning after they launch their career in the ag technology industry.
I also structure my classes this way based on the advice I receive from our local advisory board members as well as input from industry partners. From my perspective, the point of higher education is not to make experts, but to supply our students with building blocks and foundations to be successful in their careers.
My advice for you as dealers would be to talk to your local schools. Help them design a curriculum based on industry needs in precision ag, work with the schools to identify areas of improvement and offer internships specific to this business.
Precision farming is a rapidly changing industry. The only hope to keep new, quality employees entering the workforce is to help the educational system keep pace with this ever-changing technology.
Get More Precision Perspective
Want to learn more about what to look for in your next precision farming hire? Visit www.PrecisionFarmingDealer.com/pfd-Summit to read more on Zachary Ward’s roundtable moderation and dealer discussion at the 2017 Precision Farming Dealer Summit in St. Louis. And tune in to Precision Farming Dealer’s podcast series to hear more from Ward and other Summit moderators with precision tips.