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February 3, 2022

Soft Skills a Must for Future AgTech Workforce

On January 26, 2022, the AgTechX Ed Summit at Imperial Valley College brought together 70 farmers and educators throughout the Imperial Valley and technology companies across the globe to solve one issue: how to cultivate an agricultural workforce equipped with the skills needed to navigate new on-farm technology.

The half-day event featured a series of panel discussions, where the speakers identified several solutions to get more qualified students into agricultural jobs:

  1. Showcase how “ag is sexy” by promoting new tech-based jobs on the farm.

    “We have the opportunity to change the perception of agriculture with all the sexy jobs we now offer with tech and computers,” said Jack Vessey, President of Vessey & Co., during the Chief Executive Officers Panel. “You no longer have to go to Silicon Valley for these sexy jobs. We have those jobs right here on the farm. Ag is sexy.”

  2. Break down the perceived barriers of obtaining a college degree, such as access and affordability, by creating joint community college-university level programs.

    For example, during the Education and Workforce Development Strategies Panel, Imperial Valley College and the University of Arizona – Yuma spoke about their streamlined transfer program where ag students can take easily-transferable courses at both colleges at a lower cost.

  3. Develop K-12 curriculum that fosters critical thinking skills.

    “We need to invest in the K-12 pipeline and go beyond the basics of STEM and Ag,” said Jairo Diaz, the Director of the UC Desert Research and Extension Center, during the Education and Workforce Development Strategies Panel. “We need to put students in teams where they learn how to solve problems. We need to focus on critical thinking skills.”

The January 26 event wrapped up with a fireside side between Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Dennis Donohue, the Director of Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, where they covered everything from the importance of soft skills to the economic benefits of an upskilled workforce in California.

Jobs in agriculture “are multidimensional, so we can’t be siloed in skills. Our future workers have to have both technical skills and soft skills,” said Secretary Ross. “We can teach technical skills, so our focus needs to be on hiring people with spark and who are interested in learning.”

To see images from AgTechX Ed at Imperial Valley College, visit the WGCIT Facebook page here.

The workforce development activities continued on January 27, where Secretary Ross spent the day with the Holtville and El Centro FFA chapters. The day started at Holtville High School, where Secretary Ross participated in a Q&A with nearly 30 students. The crew then caravanned to a Vessey & Co romaine field, where FarmWise provided a field demo of their automated weeder and Ag-Bee/Rantizo demonstrated how drones are now being used to apply crop protectants.

The FFA-filled day wrapped up with a Junior AgSharks Competition where FFA students teamed with venture capitalists and farmers to judge up-and-coming technologies of several WGCIT resident start-up companies. Click here to watch the full recording of the Junior AgSharks Competition.