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SouthWestern Association invests in future through recruitment tools

Most business' greatest asset is a skilled workforce, and equipment dealerships are no exception. However, access to a strong workforce has been an ongoing challenge for equipment dealers for many years. That's why the SouthWestern Association has invested in several partnerships to develop a stronger workforce for its members.

"Over the past year, workforce development really proved to be something that truly needed to be addressed," says Nikki Bloemendaal, SWA director of education. "The main services we offer, regarding workforce development include an online campus training program, Dealers of Tomorrow conferences and internship programs."

After hearing several members voice their concern about workforce development, SWA took the initiative to design an online campus training program. The main areas of focus are: sales, leadership, customer service and workplace compliance training.

In addition, SWA has partnered with other groups to strengthen workforce development. The first partnership is with the Agricultural Future of America.

"SWA and AFA partner to provide a scholarship for a high-school student who is interested in pursing a degree in agriculture," says Hannah Phillips, program specialist for AFA. "These students are introduced to the scholarship during a joint presentation between the SWA and AFA during the Western Farm Show in February in Kansas City. Attending the Western Farm Show and participating in the SWA/AFA event makes students eligible for the scholarship."

The partnership, which formed in 2005, allows SWA to inform young people about the importance of the equipment industry while helping AFA with their overall goals.

"AFA's ability to develop a stronger workforce comes from its unique partnerships with rural communities, corporations, foundations, colleges, universities and individuals that support academic development, leader development and career development," says Phillips. "This network creates an atmosphere that stimulates the development of professionalism, entrepreneurialism, and intellectualism--each a key factor in human capital development."

SWA has also partnered with AgCareers.com to raise awareness among potential employees of SWA member dealerships.

"Our dealers have the option of posting jobs on AgCareers.com and the ability to search resumes all over the United States," says Bloemendaal. "Recently, SWA and AgCareers.com have joined forces to create an internship program for our members."

SWA is a "Partnership Client" of AgCareers.com and its members can collectively have greater employer exposure via this partnership. SWA and AgCareers.com also have engaged in several initiatives to place a spotlight on the career opportunities in the ag industry segment. AgCareers.com connects directly with over 4,000 agricultural faculties each month at two-year and four-year universities and colleges, which exposes the career opportunities within the 700 dealer membership of SWA.

"A workforce development program is imperative to attract, hire and retain quality employees," says Eric Spell, president, AgCareers.com. "A workforce development program is one way to build loyalty among employees, which leads to employee retention, which is just as important as recruiting."

The partnership between SWA and AgCareers.com began in October 2007 and recently expanded to include a college internship program. In 2009, the groups will start a small pilot program and hope to expand the program to many member dealers in 2010.

Both the AgCareers.com and AFA partnerships are important to SWA, because investing in the future of agriculture is important to SWA members.

"With the services that AgCareers.com and AFA provide to us, it has really taken that idea to a whole new level," says Bloemendaal. "The online campus is another tool that makes employees feel they are truly cared about and invested in, which makes employees take their job that much more seriously and instills a greater work ethic."



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