This is an article from the July 2017 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link.
By Jamey McIntosh, RealCareer Product Manager for Realityworks, Inc.
In Wisconsin, where Realityworks’ headquarters is located, we celebrate Dairy Month every June. For those four weeks every year, businesses, schools and individuals host events and create awareness of the impact that farmers and dairy producers have on Wisconsin’s culture and economy. This month, I had the opportunity to exhibit, network and speak with local educators at the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators’ (WAAE) summer conference. Earlier in June, I also had the privilege of taking my wife and four kids to the Calumet County Farm Days celebration on the eastern side of the state. Both events provided me, personally and professionally, with a firsthand reminder of the outstanding work that agricultural education is doing for our students and for our future workforce.
When I think about the needs that we face in developing a workforce that will keep our country competitive, I think primarily of soft skills. In fact, I hear that concern from educators throughout the field of Career and Technical Education (CTE). Knowing how to act appropriately in a job setting, how to communicate effectively, and even how to search for a job are skills that many educators could say has become a lost art. (In fact, we as a company have heard repeated pleas for resources that help students develop soft skills; it’s why we created the RealCareer Employability Skills Program). We have seen an uptick in the need to teach these skills.
Despite consistently hearing how important soft skills are for today’s generation of students, one thing was also made clear to me on my recent trips to WAAE and the farm days celebration: agricultural educators are getting it right. On my trip to Calumet County, I watched, impressed, as students politely greeted my family and me. Wearing dark blue t-shirts that proudly stated “Brillion FFA” on the front in neon yellow, these students looked me straight in the eye when I talked, greeted me with “yes, sir” (and “no, ma’am” to my wife). They confidently walked us around the barn, explaining the milking process, the importance of hard work and how different jobs were for different needs within agriculture, listening to our questions and answering politely. It was through the students of the Brillion district of the Wisconsin FFA Association that I saw the workforce of tomorrow being formed… and these polite, informed, hardworking and innovative students indicated that the future is bright.
However, this bright future is not something that just happens, despite what some might think. I’ve spent time with agricultural educators across the country as they consider the best ways to engage their students and implement interactive learning aids like our own animal and plant science models, and I’ve seen firsthand the hard work that is put into helping students develop both employability skills and technical, job-related skills. At the WAAE conference, I was surrounded by educators taking time out of their summer to learn about electrical wiring wall panel creation, forestry best practices and other career development practices.
When building our future workforce, we need to remember that hands-on learning and project-based learning are great educational tools. After all, the FFA motto includes “learning to do and doing to learn;” it is through this idea that hands-on learning becomes so important. Unlike other core educational classes, it is the hands-on training that gives CTE students a leg up when looking at future employment – it’s not just theory being taught; it is actual training and doing that prepares our students for the careers of tomorrow.
Project-based learning helps students connect the dots and helps them understand why they are learning what they are. This is important for the workforce of tomorrow; business and industry are looking for successes. Projects give students the ability to go from start to finish and work through the complications and challenges that come with their experiences.
Finally, it is important that educators be results-driven – and this is one concept that agricultural educators can do and are doing a good job of. In a constantly changing economy, focusing on results and skill development is vital to the success of our future workforce. There are so many different aspects of our workforce that can be taught. Getting students to understand that results matter and following both procedures and protocol will put them ahead of the curve when it comes to career advancement.
I saw all of these concepts in action at the WAAE conference and at the western Wisconsin farm days celebration last month. By continually focusing on these concepts, agricultural educators are helping ensure that today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s workforce. They deserve a sincere thank you for making this difference.
Give your students a daily reminder of the importance of agricultural education with this free classroom poster by Realityworks. Click here to request a printable copy for your own classroom.