Food Forward MI: Agriculture Workforce Development

http://cedam.info/2016/07/agriculture/
FoodForwardMI-BlogHeader

Written by Mary ZumBrunnen, CEO of One-Community Consulting

________________________________________________________________________________________

“…the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at a crossroads of opportunity.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

field-196173_1920Michigan is currently seeing a decline in small and mid-sized farms across the state. This trend has negatively impacted the state’s cultural heritage, economic stability and overall food security. These small and mid-sized farms play an important role in Michigan’s diversified food system. However, many areas of Michigan, both rural and urban, actually have the potential to be food secure by relying on their own regional food systems, given that the proper supports were developed and in place. Interestingly, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation also identifies agri-business as one of Michigan’s top growth industries, but according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at the crossroads of opportunity.

In Montcalm County, Rob Spohr, the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Montcalm Community College, is trying to address this issue by expanding curriculum through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Strategic Growth Initiative funding. He says: “The agriculture industry is competing for the same workers that are being hired by the manufacturing industry. The agricultural industry needs to define those skills that will translate to different companies cross sector so that we can create programming around those skill sets.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

“The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

cherry-88403_1920On the employer end, there are also lingering stigmas around the field of agriculture. Potential talent often views agricultural work as low-paying and “dirty” work, as identified through discussion with the Michigan Works! Association and other employment agencies. Organizations such as Michigan Works! can also be misinterpreted by employers as placement firms for those that are “difficult” or “unemployable.” From the eastern side of Michigan, Jessica Billiau, GST Michigan Works! Director of Communications, says: “Small farmers are looking for flexibility and experience and trust in their employees. The jobs they are offering are usually seasonal making it hard to build that trust in a short period of time. The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers. I (do) see opportunity in the future. 200 jobs were just announced last month for Cass City. MichiganWorks! is looking to support this expansion with food training programs, basic computer and tech literacy programs and other scholarships to fill the available roles.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

“Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

Agri-business re-branding and more communication outreach are necessary by both government and businesses. While the disconnect between talent in Michigan and agricultural employer needs exists, there are pilot programs in development that may bridge the gap. One successful way that employers in Clinton County attracted future talent began with a career expo day geared toward eighth grade exploratory learning and business tours. Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions. For more information about pilot programming or to learn more about the agri-workforce development, please read the extended blog here or connect with Jessica AcMoody at acmoody@cedam.info today.

yellow-colorbar

About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)