Trade & Technical Schools are Developing a Twenty-First Century Workforce

October 20, 2021
Keith Olander

Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource (AFNR) is an industry that is innovating, tackling global challenges and helping to feed the world. AFNR offers numerous exciting and fulfilling career opportunities for Minnesotans, and as educators, we need to ensure that we are not only connecting talent to employers, but also connecting students to the right kinds of technical training.

There is no doubt about it that candidates with technical agriculture skills including IT and programming are in demand. Technical and trade schools are communicating with employers to ensure that the education and hands-on training they’re offering prepares students for their future career, meeting the needs of both students and the industry.

For example, farming is becoming more data-driven, which is in turn making agriculture more efficient in crop yields, as well as reducing its overall environmental impact. A combine harvester can have 500 or more sensors on it that collect data. A crop sprayer or corn planter can have more than 200 sensors. Employers need people who can troubleshoot and repair sensor equipment to ensure precision agricultural practices. In many cases, this kind of technical work can be done in an office, as opposed to out in a field. Having a pipeline of talent with these kinds of critical technical skills is imperative to the future of agriculture, both to meet the expanding resource needs for a growing population and to ensure the industry is minimizing its footprint on the land and our climate.

The pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions also highlighted the need for butchers and meat cutters over the past two years. Funding from the Minnesota Legislature is supporting a partnership with Minnesota State and AURI (the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) to provide meat cutting and slaughter training, including butchering for retail, at Central Lakes and Ridgewater colleges. This is another example of trade schools working to connect students with training for in-demand careers.

Finally, another trend we’re seeing in education is a strong interest in the environmental sciences. The AFNR industry works every day to be a strong steward of the land, and people across the industry are constantly innovating and adapting to the latest science-based practices and technologies to reduce our carbon footprint. Many students interested in environmental science may not have a background in agriculture, and we are working to connect those in the early stages of their careers with farmers in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Hands-on learning and connection with those working on the ground in agriculture will foster a greater understanding of our food supply chain, and the correlation between growing food, fuel and fiber and protecting our environment.

There are so many amazing careers in AFNR, and my hope is that we can continue to show students that technical and trade school offers meaningful opportunities for a bright future. Students often come out of these programs with less debt than a traditional four-year degree, experience applied learning in their field while training, and most importantly, they will be setup for a job that feeds the world, protects our environment, and is on the cutting edge of technology.

- Keith Olander is the Executive Director of AgCentric and Agricultural Partnerships