Having a hard time finding qualified service technicians?By Anita Sennett, AEM Senior Director, Ag Services

If so, you are not alone.  It’s something we hear from AEM Ag members across the board.

Part of the purpose of National Ag Day, which those of us in the industry will be celebrating tomorrow, March 21, is to create awareness not only of all that our industry does, but of what it has to offer.  We have our work cut out for us. 

A survey of Ag retailers conducted by Purdue University, South Dakota State University and CropLife America confirms that Ag manufacturers aren’t the only ones dealing with this challenge: 

  • 78 percent of survey respondents said it’s either difficult, very difficult, or there are no qualified applicants in the area, when looking for precision equipment technicians. 
  • 77 percent said the same was true for precision sales specialists.
  • 72 percent said the same was true for technical support.

According to the survey, while the majority of job applicants had adequate general knowledge of precision Ag technology and were able to operate precision Ag equipment, only 26 percent had adequate knowledge to install, calibrate, troubleshoot and repair the same equipment.

Why is there such a shortage of qualified technology workers in the Ag sector? There are several factors that likely play into this. 

The pace of developments over the past few years makes it hard even for those who have been working in the field to keep up with the technologies. Young experts just starting out are lured away to Silicon Valley or major cities rather than heading for many of our more rural Midwestern manufacturing locations.

And then there are the industry perceptions – or should I say misperceptions. Doubly so on the Ag side:

  1. Kids today, and probably consumers as a whole, still think of someone working in manufacturing as walking around in a grease-smeared jumpsuit carrying a wrench. They have no idea how much equipment in a plant is computer-operated or robotic, how many workers are punching formulas and numbers into a computer, and how pristine and streamlined many operations are today.
  2. Anyone not directly involved in agriculture likely has no clue as to the sophistication of the equipment, the technologies used and the expertise needed. To state it more clearly – more than 90 percent of the population is unaware, and still thinks of agriculture as the image we see on road signs warning of tractors crossing—the silhouette of the guy in a straw hat driving his circa 1950 tractor – no monitors, light bar, or cab, not even ROPs.

So how do we even begin to move the needle on our industry image?

A recently launched AEM Ag Workforce Development Task Force decided we need to start with the next generation. With the help of our members and partner organizations, we plan to show high school students, teachers and guidance counselors what a dynamic, cutting-edge industry we work in, and to help provide a pathway to the enormous opportunity awaiting those who choose it. 

Forward this article on to your non-Ag friends in celebration of National Ag Day.  And stay tuned to learn how you can get involved as we get to work on bringing more qualified service technicians and technologists to the Ag sector.