A couple of years ago, John Deere CEO Sam Allen quipped: “Most people don’t realize one of our 8000 Series tractors has more computing power than the first space shuttle.”
That statement is awe-inspiring and maybe a little terrifying. The average farmworker makes less than $11 per hour, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. Yet workers are often asked to operate expensive, sophisticated equipment. As new ag technology floods the market, farmworkers will likely need to master an increasingly tech-savvy skill set in the future.
That requires a bit of crystal-ball gazing, says Dwight Koops, president of Crop Quest.
“How do you hire people for stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet?” Koops says. His Kansas-based ag consulting firm employs eight precision ag specialists. His simple solution—hire the right people—is easier said than done, he admits. The mindset of prospective workers is just as important as their skill set.
“We’re looking for creative innovators, self-starters who are willing to fail ,” he explains. “It helps if the person has an interest in technology and computers and likes to take things apart and put them back together.”
More and more, employers desire workers who display the four Cs, says Charles Fadel, an author and education expert. They think critically, work creatively, communicate effectively and are able to collaborate well.
“This is not a new need, but it has been growing in importance as competition and time-to-market pressures intensify,” Fadel says.
The technology you use on your operation matters, too, Koops says. Some technology is easy to learn, while other technology has a much steeper learning curve. Are you giving employees the time and training to master each one?
Give employees wiggle room for trial and error, Koops adds. His precision ag specialists are instructed to research as much new technology as possible. That goal helps them sort through a “boatload” of hardware and software to find practical solutions.
Technology is a moving target, so training isn’t easy, Koops points out. Remain diligent and open-minded when it comes to enhancing employee technology skills.