Like many of my childhood friends, I grew up with an appreciation for nature and I cut my teeth as member of our local Boy Scout troop. I can still picture my mom sewing every one of those merit patches onto my uniform, which she recently found and returned to me, for sentimental reasons.
While I don’t tie the tightest square knot, I still place a lot of stock in the motto, “Be Prepared.” As farmers head into the field for planting, precision farming dealers are bracing for — or are already in the midst of — bouncing from farm to farm, putting out precision fires.
Being prepared is an essential part of keeping customers happy during this hectic season. But before precision technicians are capable of handling a heavy volume of service calls, they need to build a foundation of knowledge, ideally through experience.
This starts at educational institutions that provide precision-specific courses. More colleges and universities are starting or expanding their precision ag offerings in response to the increasing need by dealerships to fill precision personnel positions.
Aims Community College, in Greeley, Colo., recently announced plans to add two new precision courses within the next year to give students hands-on training with GPS systems, remote sensing and GIS data integration.
According to Aileen Ehn, agriculture instructor at Aims, the course additions will perpetuate area growth for a diverse precision farming consumer base. “Our new courses will add to the expertise needed to sustain the momentum,” she says.
Savvy dealers are capitalizing on educational institutions’ investment in the next generation of precision farming specialists by partnering with colleges and universities for internships.
Many of the agricultural instructors I spoke to when compiling our precision education directory that appeared in our first print edition of Precision Farming Dealer, say they work with local dealerships to place precision farming students in “problem-solving” situations with technology.
With quality technicians still scarce, precision dealers I’ve talked to emphasize the need to keep talent “in the pipeline” to keep pace with customer demand in the future.
Dealers can tailor an internship program to suit their needs, while making sure the student gets the in-field experience they won’t learn in the classroom. The payoff for dealers is they can end up with a local, well-trained employee, and avoid having to scour the precision universe for a new hire.
Of course, some dealers — especially this time of year — need help right away and don’t mind taking a more aggressive approach with their interns. One dealer in Iowa says that he has no reservations about testing the precision mettle of interns by having them spend a few days shadowing experienced precision specialists during planting season.
“This gives them a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be like if they choose this career,” says the Iowa dealer. “And it gives us a sense of how this person operates under pressure.”
Not every internship leads to long-term employment, but at the very least dealers, like Boy Scouts, want to be prepared.