By Stephanie Metzinger
Agriculture has a shortage of labor to perform key functions such as harvesting, weeding and thinning. This decades-long labor shortage is exacerbated by the lack of immigration reform and an aging workforce. As a result, there is a critical need for leading-edge innovation from startups, established agtech equipment makers and solution providers.
As the world’s skilled agtech entrepreneurs and technology experts invent solutions, the industry will need to transition the current ag workforce to master this new technology. This next generation of tech-savvy ag workers will need to be adept in everything from agriculture and agronomy to data analytics and logic. Western Growers (WG) is going “all in” to meet the future workforce needs and is leading the charge on cultivating a workforce that has the skills and knowledge to navigate up-and-coming technology on the farm.
WG maintains numerous initiatives aimed at transitioning the agriculture workforce to master rapidly developing agricultural technology:
Careers in Ag
This career pathways program encourages college students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers within the agricultural industry. As part of the program, college students embark on three-day tours of agricultural and technology operations in Monterey County, the Central Valley, the Coachella and Imperial valleys, and Yuma, Arizona. Throughout the tour, they learn about the vast array of STEM jobs available in the industry, meet ag professionals who provide career insight and guidance and connect with WG members to possibly pursue an internship or job within their operation.
More than 250 students from UC Davis, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State L.A., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fresno State and numerous California community colleges have participated in the program to date, with several having been placed in internships and jobs as a direct result of the program.
WG teamed with Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary, to launch a statewide initiative aimed at transitioning the agriculture workforce to master rapidly developing agricultural technology. The initiative is anchored by four AgTechX Ed events in key rural areas across California.
The outcome for each event will be a roadmap of the following:
• specific skills needed in the fresh produce industry—now and in the future
• training opportunities currently available
• steps to revamp college curriculum
• new educational pathways for agtech workforce development
• partnerships between industry, government and academia to adapt education to the changing needs of agriculture
NextGen Curriculum Development
WG’s NextGen Curriculum Development effort will address the need for agriculture worker education by developing a curriculum that can be leveraged across campuses in the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems to provide the training needed for agtech expertise for the next-gen agricultural workforce.
In a train-the-trainer format, this program will prepare professors across California college and university campuses to teach the cross-disciplinary skills that will be required of new agricultural workers.
Students from middle and high schools in rural areas are invited to serve as AgSharks, where they listen to pitches from agricultural technology startups and vet their technologies as well as learn about the latest technologies by interacting with leaders in the agriculture industry and venture capitalist space. With this exposure, students become aware of the fact that the industry needs future leaders who are interested in STEM-related topics.
Home for the Holidays
An annual professional mixer where college students are invited to an exclusive meet-and-greet with agriculture industry leaders and technology companies.
Nearly 100 students from CSU Monterey Bay, Hartnell Community College, UC Davis, Cal Poly Pomona and Fresno State have participated in “Home for the Holidays,” meeting professionals from top companies including Amazon Web Services, Taylor Farms and more.
With five robust initiatives, WG is the first fresh produce association to tackle the monumental task of developing the future agtech workforce. WG recently announced this comprehensive Agtech Workforce Readiness Campaign at AgTechX Ed at Reedley College on Aug. 25, 2021, along with the official rollout of https://www.agtechworkforce.com/.
Agtechworkforce.com is a one-stop-shop where stakeholders can:
• find information about WG’s initiatives
• watch videos and read articles about students who are already making a difference in the workforce
• hear directly from farmers about workforce needs
• join the cause
To learn more about the Agtech Workforce Readiness Campaign, visit agtechworkforce.com or attend the next AgTechx Ed event at Imperial Valley College in January 2022.