In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
More On Ag Careers
Aug 15, 2013
A few more thoughts on who will repair tractors in the next 20 years:
It used to be that the guys who worked at equipment dealerships, grain elevators, seed dealers and other local ag-support industries were farm kids who couldn't find an opportunity to farm, didn't want to farm but wanted to stay close to agriculture, or simply needed a steady job in a small rural town. Today there are fewer and fewer farm kids so there are fewer and fewer ag-trained people available for ag-service jobs. When I was growing up, at times there were a total of 15 kids living on our square mile. Today there are zero kids on that same mile. So not only are there dramatically fewer kids growing up and learning to be farmers, but there equally fewer kids growing up to fill farm-related jobs in nearby towns.
As for whether or not society is over-emphaszing a 4-year college degree as "necessary" for success: If success is measured in how much a person gets paid, I don't know if there will ever be a time when the mechanics, plumbers and "fixers" in society get paid as much as the paper pushers. Perhaps I'm cynical, but I think that as long as the paper pushers are the ones who set wages for the fixers, the fixers will always make less than the paper pushers.
An excellent comment was made that a four-year degree now often comes at the price of a hefty student loan. A lot of students could avoid burdensome loans by connecting with an apprenticeship program. Our dealership helps fund the education of students who attend a two-year tech program. The students not only get a significant amount of their education paid for, but get paid a modest wage while doing work-study at the dealership as part of the training.
(Yes, their pay is low, and yes, they have to sign a contract promising they will work for the dealership for a specific period of time after graduation, but, hey--I shoveled a lot of hog pens for free during my "apprenticeship" on the family farm.)
Finally, I return to a theme I've touched on several times in recent years in my blogs: farmers underestimate what they know. It's not until you try to train a "city kid" to work in an agricultural situation that you realize how much highly specialized, incredibly complicated knowledge farmers have absorbed since they were old enough to follow their dad to the field. Never underestimate the skill sets you must possess to simply get through a single day on your farm. Those skills are being passed to fewer and fewer young people, whether they use them to return to the farm or to work in ag-related jobs.