A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Central Columbia High School’s FFA Chapter in honor of National FFA Week and tour their classrooms, greenhouse, barn, stores and laboratories.
It was truly a great example of how the school and the community can work together to pool resources to create and invest in a program to meet the workforce needs of the community as a whole. .
Central Columbia has built a curriculum around career paths in agriculture, creating a pipeline of workers entering the workforce with degrees earned in the classroom or pursuing post-secondary education in agriculture or related fields. This pipeline is critical to the success of Pennsylvania agriculture.
Pennsylvania’s $132.5 billion agricultural industry supports nearly 600,000 jobs across the Commonwealth. One in 10 jobs is related to food and agriculture. In 2018, the Commonwealth was expected to have 75,000 job vacancies over the next 10 years.
Farmers and laborers are retiring, and new technology-focused positions continue to expand. This, combined with the labor needs exacerbated by COVID-19, has allowed the ministry to review and strengthen its efforts to meet the growing needs of careers in agriculture and food.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bill has made strategic investments to develop future generations of farmers through the Ag & Youth and Farm to School grant programs. At Central Columbia, we’ve seen with our own eyes how the Ag & Youth Grant program facilitates hands-on learning experiences.
The FFA chapter used the grant to purchase a tractor for a tractor safety and farm mechanics program. The chapter also purchased a watercourse table, to demonstrate environmental science and conservation practices in the classroom.
It’s a great example of how public-private partnerships can facilitate hands-on learning experiences while raising awareness of agricultural careers.
The Wolf administration and the General Assembly prioritized efforts to strengthen school-based agricultural education by creating the Commission for Excellence in Agricultural Education.
The departments of agriculture and education collaborate to guide the leadership of the commission, which is developing a statewide plan to support existing agricultural education programs and develop a strategy to obtain the education agriculture in more schools.
Stephon Fitzpatrick, executive director of the commission, is committed to creating a more sustainable, diverse and inclusive agricultural education system for students and the communities they will one day serve.
The future of farming
In February, I joined agricultural science students at Lankenau High School in Philadelphia to celebrate National Minorities Week in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences. It was a great reminder of the importance of our work. Agriculture is both urban and rural, and there are opportunities in agriculture for everyone.
There is also a huge need to develop opportunities where agricultural and business careers align. The Department of Agriculture continues to work with the Apprenticeship and Training Office of the Department of Labor and Industry to develop apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
During National Apprenticeship Week in November, I had the good fortune to meet Wendall and Jeremy, who are both part of the pre-apprenticeship Farm Equipment Technician program at Binkley & Hurst. Through mentorship and on-the-job training, they acquired knowledge and skills to prepare for full-time employment while being paid for their work.
Pennsylvania is home to seven state-certified agricultural apprenticeship programs and two pre-apprenticeship programs. We continue to work with agricultural employers to develop programs to fill in-demand jobs while providing the next generation of workers with hands-on, paid experience and a direct path to career success.
The success of these programs has also challenged us to think differently about how agriculture and commercial industries intersect. We continue to work with community colleges and educational institutions like Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology to see how we can better align our programs and initiatives to meet workforce needs.
The Department of Agriculture is strategic in its work to grow the future of the agriculture industry and the next generation of agricultural workers, but we also recognize the needs the industry is currently facing. If you would like to learn more about workforce development efforts and how to connect these programs, contact Sara Gligora, Central Regional Director and Special Assistant for Workforce Development, at sgligora @pa.gov.
There are opportunities in agriculture for everyone. Together we can train the next generation of food and agriculture workers.