In a Canada-first, Lethbridge College has signed an agreement that will ensure its agriculture and heavy equipment apprentices have access to up-to-date training and state-of-the-art equipment during their studies.

On Tuesday, the college announced it had signed a multifaceted, non-exclusive AGCO Advantage Partnership agreement with AGCO Corp. and Hanlon Ag Centre Ltd. The partnership involves support from AGCO Corp. in providing components used as training aids at no cost to the college’s ag and heavy equipment apprenticeship and certificate programs. AGCO will also provide factory training for the instructors and training materials associated with current AGCO products. The partnership was first suggested by Lethbridge-based Hanlon Ag Centre, which is also the first company to sign an agreement with the college for dealer training.

College president Paula Burns said the agriculture program has garnered a lot of interest, particularly in the wake of recent economic woes in Alberta. “We’re finding Lethbridge has a very stable economy, but it also has lots of people who are looking to make sure they are able to diversify,” she said. “Agriculture is a big part of that.”

Russell Goertzen, AGCO Advantage Program manager, said it is important to support the dealers of AGCO products by helping create learning opportunities for future technicians. “We’ll help support the college with state-of-the-art technology, which means that we’re going to allow them into our factory training, just as we would our dealership technicians in the region — so they are up to the same speed as our dealers.”

Sam Mitchell is a second-year student in the Ag Heavy Equipment Program who said the addition of new technology and programming will increase opportunities in the workforce. “It’s nice to see cutting edge technology right here at home,” he said. “You don’t have to travel long distances to get good, professional training.”

Mitchell said the announcement should attract more attention to programming at the college. “There is a huge demand for professionally-trained mechanics in the industry. This will make it a lot easier.”

Goertzen said AGCO was attracted to the college because of its “forward thinking” approach to learning. “When I first visited here, one of the first conversations was that they showed me their plan for expansion. That really keyed in the back of my mind that this is where we needed to be.”

Burns noted the ability to make use of new equipment will be a boon for students who take the programming. “Those pieces of equipment are incredibly expensive, and to always have the latest and greatest, basically, is really a huge advantage to us.”