The skilled worker shortage in the agricultural equipment industry didn’t come about overnight. It grew — both in scope and complexity — with time. Solving it is one of the greatest challenges manufacturers and dealers face today, and addressing it is a task not easily accomplished.
As an industry, we simply can’t afford to allow such a significant problem to continue to get worse. And in celebrating National Ag Day today, we need to recognize the value of workforce development — especially in rural areas — as a means of helping ensure we can continue to fulfill our role in helping farmers feed the world.
Everything the equipment industry does serves to help advance the agriculture industry forward and make it possible for food to get from farmers’ fields to our table. However, nothing can be accomplished unless we first ensure we can attract, develop and employ talented individuals to help ensure the future of the industry.
The short-term outlook, however, isn’t promising. The widespread workforce shortage in America is even more pronounced in rural areas — from dealers to manufacturing to good farm labor. The demand for trained and skilled service technicians grows ever higher, and locating qualified employees will require a concerted, long-term commitment on the part of the entire ag industry.
From AEM’s perspective, ag manufacturing is alive and flourishing in the U.S. today. Good jobs — and more specifically, good wages and benefits — are available for the taking. But, the question is: How will we, as an industry, help fill them?
Fortunately, efforts are already under way to help bring our industry together to develop and share best practices and tools to recruit the workforce of tomorrow. AEM’s workforce development program aims to help close the skills gap by specifically targeting young people at the K-12 level — through targeted outreach to students, educators, guidance counselors and parents. It’s a long-term play, and it requires consistent engagement and follow-through over time, but it ultimately drives tangible results at a local level. AEM has also developed a free workforce development tool kit and established a scholarship program to aid the industry’s efforts to inspire young people to consider working toward a career with a local equipment dealer or in machine manufacturing.
Every workforce development activity is undertaken with the idea of helping young people understand the value of taking up a career in the equipment industry. There are a number of professions worthy of aspiring to, and employment in the skilled trades is certainly one of them. Young people set to comprise the workforce of tomorrow desire to see what kind of career they can expect to build while working in the industry, and many want to be ensured their contributions will make both a lasting and substantial impact. Perhaps most importantly, however, they need to understand the ag equipment industry offers a path toward building a rewarding career, not just a means for securing steady, short-term wages and benefits.
In order to meet these expectations and foster a connection with potential employees, companies in the equipment industry are best served by forging relationships with educators and academic institutions at a local level. Specific activities to undertake include:
- Encouraging local instructors and FFA chapters responsible for ag education to become certified to teach equipment-specific courses available through Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE).
- Establishing an employee ambassador program and tasking current workers to reach out to a specific school in order to set up regular visits.
- Leveraging social media to connect with a target audience, share relevant company information and highlight the achievements and efforts of successful employees
- Teaming up with another dealer, holding a facility showcase, and inviting local students to visit
- Offering apprenticeships that match students with current employees and have established guidelines in place in order to ensure optimal results.
National Ag Day serves as an annual opportunity to celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture across the United States. However, it’s also a helpful reminder for everyone in the ag equipment industry — manufacturers, dealers, service professionals and even farmers — of the importance of coming together to recruit the workforce of tomorrow. In sharing best practices, tools and tactics to guide workforce development activities, we can connect with young people, inspire them to strongly consider a career in the industry and — perhaps most importantly — develop them into qualified employees capable of making a difference.