Ag dealers must look ahead for tech workers

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." -- Alvin Toffler, futurist and author, as quoted by Karen Reilly, North Dakota State College of Science.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." -- Alvin Toffler, futurist and author, as quoted by Karen Reilly, North Dakota State College of Science.


BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota legislative leaders are on board to help start a campaign to increase the image for two-year, technical careers that are vital to the state's economy, according to a recruiter for the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

Karen Reilly, NDSCS director of enrollment services, spoke to some 200 implement managers, gathered for joint state auto and implement dealer conventions in Bismarck, N.D.

She says members of the North Dakota Legislature are a "huge advocates for promoting two-year education" and are looking to launch a major "image and brand proposal to change perceptions" and highlight the availability of jobs in this area.


New image needed

Reilly offered data about the changing work force and the student population of NDSCS, a key supplier of technically trained students in the tri-state area. She says one key to keeping the pipeline full of qualified ag technicians is to change the image of these careers.

One obstacle is that the most important influencers for students weighing higher education options are parents. The baby boomer parents of prospective students -- and even high school guidance counselors -- have the image of a grease monkey.

"It's Goober, working at the filling station in Mayberry," Reilly says of their perception.

Today's technicians work with technical electronic gear and diagnostic testing equipment and are highly skilled. The thinking of most career counselors has "done a 180-"degree turn, but more needs to be done with parent perceptions.

For baby boomers, the goal was college and a clean, higher-paying job was the goal. Today, two-year technical careers are more competitive with four-year degrees that sometimes don't result in employment.

Reilly says employers of technical workers need to invest time and money today to keep an adequate supply of qualified workers in the pipeline. She suggests plugging into the North Dakota Implement Dealers Association PLOWS program, in which dealers pay back up to $20,000 of a student's technical education, if they stay working for the dealership for 10 years.

She says dealers interested in "growing your own" employees can plug into NDSCS's list of student prospects, to see what talent already is identified in their multi-county locales. If they had a choice, she says, many students would like to have or start their careers fairly close to home.


It's a new world

Reilly underlines the need for business people to think ahead and do the necessary school visits and recruitment for prospective technical workers. And she says they should prepare for a different worker than their own generation produced.

"Today's student is very different than a decade ago," she says.

Many high school graduates embody a collection of contradictions.

They are told they are somehow "special" and often are more sheltered by "kamikaze parents" than in the past. They have a sense of confidence and are team-oriented, but they also are intrigued with what's new and innovative. Many feel pressure to achieve and often are overachievers.

Many are talented in technology, but also like routines and a regulated, secure environment. But they also like flexibility.

Dealers would be wise to enlist their younger employees to help communicate with prospective younger employees. They may need to take time off from a day of work to make school visits or host student events or trips.

"Young sells young; old sells old," she says.


The parenting situation is different than in past generations, and that's not always good, she says. Reilly says she's had talks with overzealous parents who try to help their soon-to-be-adult children by filling out employment applications and even negotiating compensation and benefit terms with prospective employers.

Often this backfires.

U.S. workers are competing with outsourced workers in other parts of the world, as well as in-sourced, with visiting workers. That doesn't work with dealerships.

"You cannot ship a car to Mexico to have it working," she says.

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