Trial by fire. Thrown to the wolves. Learn by doing. All phrases that are used when describing how new precision farming hires often start their career at dealerships.

While the academic foundation is critical to providing a precision primer for students, experience is where new hires receive their education. Many dealerships have established relationships with universities and colleges that provide a pipeline of talent.

But 2020 has changed the learning curve for students, educators and dealerships, with on-campus classes cut short by the coronavirus, and in some cases allowing internships and employment to start earlier than normal.

A few dealers welcomed the opportunity to provide on-the-job training especially into spring planting and said the timing allowed for meaningful hours to be logged during the busiest time of year.

Putting students or recent graduates into real-world troubleshooting situations is a way to accelerate their development, or allow them to decide that employment with a dealership isn’t the career path they want to pursue.

So does it make sense to rethink the timing of in-field and on-campus precision education? Dr. Scott Shearer, ag engineering professor at Ohio State says the lessons learned out of adapting to the pandemic may warrant more permanent consideration.

“If we could structure the academic year around the production year, that might be kind of interesting,” he says. “In other words, during the middle of the summer, students are taking online classes when there’s not quite as much going on in the field. In spring though, they ought to be out in the field and getting that hands-on experience and again in the fall or during harvest.”

Shearer says creatively rethinking the curriculum, allowing students to “self-pace” their learning to a certain extent, while also allowing them to build valuable experience is attractive. In the future, a “hybrid” curriculum consisting of a more flexible academic schedule could be an option.

“The last couple of months have shown us how much can be accomplished remotely, while taking into account the value of hands-on experience,” he says.

So will students — and dealerships — eventually be able to take advantage of a revised academic calendar? Share your thoughts at on how you see this potentially benefiting your business, or posing challenges to your current structure.