Why Ag initiative draws excitement
The Why Ag Initiative was officially launched Feb. 22-24, during the 2012 Wisconsin School Counselor Association (WSCA) Conference at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.
More than 1,000 school counselors from across the state learned about employment opportunities available in Wisconsin’s agriculture, food and natural resource industry through the Why Ag initiative,.
The Why Ag initiative was created by the Wisconsin Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council (WAEWDC). Career guidance tools and hands-on presentations complemented the unveiling of the interactive website www.WhyAg.com.
“With educational professionals across the state in search of information and resources to advise their students about careers, the launch of Why Ag could not be more relevant or timely,” says Natalie Killion, professional school counselor at Green Bay Preble High School.
She continued, “The more knowledgeable school counselors are about the promising future of the agricultural industry, the more likely they will be to discuss these opportunities with their students, thereby strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce.”
Killion kicked off the launch by sharing her professional agriculture and student counseling experiences. She has found that once students make career connections, they are more apt to focus on academics.
Fulfilling that philosophy and creating individualized student plans as part of the Wisconsin Comprehensive School Counseling Model were essential in reducing freshman failure rates on her caseload from 40 percent to 9 percent in one year at Green Bay Preble High School.
“When the students learn what agriculture has to offer, they are excited about the opportunities and eager to learn more,” she says.
Killion added, “Once the students make the career connection, everything else follows. If that connection is in agriculture, we can foster that passion as one out of 10 jobs in Wisconsin is related to the industry. Agriculture is here to stay and it has the potential to grow.”
Counselors in attendance were most impressed with the diversity of employment opportunities in the technologically growing industry.
“Jobs in agriculture are not what you may first think of,” Killion explains. “Biological sciences, biotechnology and international ag business are projected to be some of the hottest career opportunities for the future. The tools available at www.WhyAg.com can help students secure connections within the wide range of careers available in the agricultural industry.”
Pam Jahnke, farm director at the Wisconsin Farm Report, Randy Zogbaum, education director for the Wisconsin Technical College System Agriculture and Natural Resources programs, and Ferron Havens, president and CEO at the Wisconsin Agribusiness Council, Inc., joined the launch discussion and outlined the functionality and adaptability of www.WhyAg.com.
As the core portal of the Why Ag initiative, the interactive website connects students, displaced workers and those looking for increased employment opportunities with educational and employment advice.
The tools demonstrate that many skillsets are transferable between non-agriculture and agriculturally-focused jobs.
A Skills-to-Jobs Matrix also matches individual skills to position descriptions from the fields of agriculture, biotechnology and life sciences.
“The website can help students find a job that interests them — and a job that will pay handsomely after training,” Jahnke says. “Last year, there was an 18 percent increase in agricultural exports from Wisconsin. We are screaming for employees at all levels; if they’re interested and motivated, we can find them a job.”
Zogbaum and Havens added that the tools of www.WhyAg.com are applicable to workforce members at all levels.
“On average, employees change careers 10 to 15 times,” Havens explained. “This site allows people to try agriculture and to see if their existing skills can be put to use in the agriculture industry. Skills of all kinds can be applied to agriculture; the possibilities are significant and the resources to learn more are available.”
The official launch continued through the three-day WSCA Conference with agriculturalists on hand to share their experiences at the event’s trade show.
Carrie Mickelson, human resource director at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, staffed the event and noticed mindset changes in several urban-based school counselors.
“The excitement has been amazing,” Mickelson says. “People who have stopped by are learning, they’re excited about agriculture and they’re making connections that they’ll bring back to their schools to make a difference.”
“The interest in agriculture that we saw from school counselors signals a successful future for the agriculture industry in Wisconsin,” says Paul Larson, member of the WAEWDC and agriculture educator at Freedom High School in Outagamie County.
Larson explained, “The goal of Why Ag is to connect students and non-agricultural workers with the emerging job opportunities in Wisconsin’s $59 billion agriculture, food and natural resources industry. The enthusiasm generated at the conference will help to carry out that goal.”
For more information on the Why Ag Initiative, visit www.WhyAg.com or contact Jack Ourada, WAEWDC executive director, at 608-235-7148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wisconsin Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council was created by Wisconsin Act 223. The group works to grow Wisconsin’s ability to compete by creating a stronger and sustainable workforce for the agriculture, food and natural resources industry.
WAEWDC recommends policies and initiatives, encourages youth to pursue related careers, facilitates public and private partnerships, recruits qualified workers and offers professional development throughout the state of Wisconsin.