August 30, 2021

Collaboration is Key to Developing Agtech Workforce

More than 150 tech experts, educators, government leaders and agricultural stakeholders gathered during the AgtechX Ed Summit at Reedley College last Wednesday to discuss how to transition the ag workforce to master rapidly developing on-farm technology. The half-day event resulted in new and innovative ideas for upskilling the agricultural workforce to meet critical labor needs, with “collaboration” ranking as the top solution.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in it together,” said Karen Ross, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Secretary, during her keynote session.

Ross was among the cadre of speakers who presented novel ideas and programs for cultivating a future workforce with the skills and knowledge to navigate emerging agtech. The event kicked off with an industry issues panel, where agtech entrepreneurs, global tech experts and farmers provided guidance on the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in the current workforce. Educators then took the stage for the second panel where they delved into education and workforce development strategies. To round out the panel sessions, the CEOs from HMC Farms, Sun World International, Bountiful and Central Valley Community Foundation spoke about the importance of systemic collaboration across commodity types for building a sufficient workforce.

“I don’t want to live in a world without a California peach. And if we don’t collectively come together to solve our issues, we are going to head in that direction,” said Harold McClarty, CEO of HMC Farms.

Western Growers (WG) President and CEO Dave Puglia, who provided the introductory remarks for Secretary Ross, demonstrated the power of collaboration by sharing the tangible results of Careers in Ag – a program where WG teams with local universities and colleges to introduce students to the variety of careers available in agriculture. The program, he said, is part of a larger WG Agtech Workforce Readiness Campaign, which is comprised of five initiatives aimed at building the future workforce.

The event culminated with fireside chat between Secretary Ross and WG Center for Innovation & Technology Director Dennis Donohue, where Ross stressed the need for cultivating homegrown talent through partnerships.

“If we can improve [labor-intensive] jobs, we can extend the longevity of those working in ag,” said Secretary Ross. “This is going to happen through partnerships.”

Additional key takeaways from the event include the following:

  • The top skill future employees need to be successful in every industry, including ag, is understanding software applications. Taking software development classes are crucial because the world is moving toward software applications.
  • The second language youth need to learn is coding.
  • There are two top issues for ag employers: getting young people into agriculture and getting them to stay there.
  • Upscaling the workforce and transitioning it to be more tech-savvy takes money.
  • The top issue for educators is replicating the environment that students will actually face in the field to give them the skills needed to be successful when they graduate.  

Click here for images from the AgtechX Ed Summit at Reedley College. This event is part of the AgtechX Ed Initiative, a statewide workforce readiness campaign developed by Western Growers and CDFA Secretary Ross to cultivate agricultural workforce equipped with skills needed to navigate new on-farm technology. It was the first of four, and the remaining events will be held in Imperial Valley, Monterey County and the greater Sacramento area in 2022.