Last month, I stopped by Nebraska Equipment, a Case IH dealer based in Seward, Neb., to discuss hiring in the precision industry with sales manager Kenny Pekarek. The timing of the visit was fitting, as the dealership was just one week into hiring its first precision intern, not coincidentally during the heart of planting season.

The intern, who helps the store’s three full-time techs with lower-scale maintenance, has additional plans to provide crop imagery services for customers using his personal drone. He was successfully recruited through a family-to-family connection with Nebraska Equipment’s store manager, although Pekarek says opportunities to find and develop young precision service techs are typically few and far in between.

“This is our first year. We've been here for 33 years now, and this is the first time I know of that we've had an intern for precision, and it's very difficult to find good, young, qualified kids, especially when this is a seasonal ... anything auto-steer/ GPS is seasonal, OK? You need them definitely in the springtime. Planting time — that's go time — and then fall, a little bit for harvest. But in between there, you want to find somebody that's able to do other things in your store, whether it's set up equipment, work on equipment, stuff like that, and they don't all want to do that. They want to just do precision. Well, it's hard to keep a guy busy, and, first of all, it's hard to find good, young techs. The techs we got now have been here, they're mechanics, and then they kind of learn on the go. They went to school, they go to precision schools in the offseason and they just learn on their own, so, once you get them, you definitely want to keep them. But finding new ones, it's getting difficult because there's a lot of competition. I mean, you've got seed companies out there, you've got your other manufacturers, they're all going through the same thing. They're looking for good, young techs.”

Results from the Precision Farming Dealer 2018 Benchmark Study indicate that Nebraska Equipment isn’t alone when it comes to concerns with recruiting and retaining precision service techs. Over 63% of respondents in the study noted “Precision Staff Expansion” as their top priority for the next 5 years. In addition, 41% of respondents reported paying new specialists at least $41,000 per year in 2018, almost doubling the 2017 total.

With the complexity of precision services rising as quickly as the demand to provide them, perhaps we’ll see full-scale recruiting programs as the next industry-wide trend for dealerships.