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SWA starts workforce development early

Finding a steady pipeline of good employees is a challenge for any business, but can be particularly problematic for farm and construction equipment dealers. One way the SouthWestern Association is working to develop a workforce is to partner with Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.

The program takes a new approach to workforce development, as students find an employer before going to school, rather than going to school and then having to search for employment.

"Our dealer members go out into the community and sponsor students in the OSUIT program," says Tag Webb, regional manager for SWA. "It's a true partnership between the industry, students and university, where everyone involved is a stakeholder."

OSUIT has one program that trains students to become agricultural and industrial service technicians and another program that prepares them for careers in precision agriculture. Both are two-year degree programs that allow students to spend half of each semester in the classroom and the other half in the dealership that is sponsoring them. This allows the best of both worlds for the student, who gains practical experience and wages, as well as a formal curriculum.

The service technician program trains students to diagnose, service and maintain industrial and farm equipment, including electronic and hydraulic systems. The program has grown to a current enrollment of 37 students, who receive an Associate in Applied Science Degree with a major in industrial and farm equipment technology.

The precision agriculture program focuses on using advanced technology systems such as global positioning systems, geographic information systems, yield monitoring, variable rate applications and remote sensing to map, record, and analyze variables in crop production.

These programs provide SWA members with valuable technicians that all industries have struggled to attract.

"In the computer age, many people tell kids to get out of rural areas to have a good career," says Webb. "We are trying to show you can make a good living in rural communities as a technician."

Recruiting good workers has always been a challenge, but Webb says the program between OSUIT and SWA can help. Another challenge is--the technician workforce is aging, making workforce development programs even more critical.

"This program puts students and businesses into a relationship that is beneficial to both," says Webb. "The students get an education and the dealers get a highly educated and highly trained technician."

OSUIT sees benefits as well.

"The college benefits by having access to equipment, tools and curriculum necessary to train students at the level required by employers," says Steve Doede, division chair, automotive technologies at OSUIT. "Students benefit by earning a college degree, receiving industry specific training, earning money to help with college expenses and entering a pathway for a long-term career."

To learn more about the program, visit www.osuit.edu, or visit their booth at the Western Farm Show, Feb. 20 to 22 in Kansas City, Mo.

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