A recent event in Reedley brought industry members together to go over the need for skilled labor in the agricultural sector. Hosted by the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology and Reedley College, the workshop served as the kickoff of the AgTechX Ed Initiative. As on-farm technology continues to advance, educating the next generation of farm employees becomes critical. Increased investment in agricultural technology is quickly pushing the educational requirements of the farming workforce higher.
“The missing piece in that discussion has been, who’s going to work the machines? Who’s going to do the problem-solving? Who’s going to do the troubleshooting?” said Dave Puglia, Western Growers President, and CEO. “If this technology wave comes into California agriculture as quickly as we need it to, we have to have the right workforce, the right skill set, the right training to be able to accommodate that. That’s what we’re focused on here today.”
The first panel of the event centered on industry issues and skill identification. Several farmers and industry leaders in the agtech sector spoke to the need for increasing the skilled labor pool moving forward. A panel of farming CEOs highlighted areas where their implementation of new technologies has better equipped their operation for the future. California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross spoke to the work being done to prepare the next generation of farm employees and what will be needed moving forward.
There was also a panel on education and workforce development strategies, moderated by California Fresh Fruit Association President Ian LeMay. Educational leaders from around the Central Valley pointed out areas of need for attracting students into the agriculture sector and the types of efforts being undertaken to prepare them for a technologically advancing field.
“I think the word that everyone heard and hopefully they’re taking away from today’s conference is ‘collaboration,’” LeMay noted. “We are seeing such large transitions within our commodity sectors, within that picking, packing, shipping process, that we have to come together. All elements. Private industry, government…then with the education sector to identify how we can create efficiencies in our processes and ultimately upskill our workforce to meet those labor needs. So, this is a first taste of that. Hopefully, today’s conversations are catalysts for how we can extend and fortify those collaborative efforts.”