Technical Schools Educate for Ag

To get an idea of what the agriculture industry in Georgia sought from current and future employees, officials at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College made the most logical move.They went straight to the source.

“We met with area agricultural-based companies and local farms to identify the skills they need in their employees,” says Angela Hobby, executive director of community and college relations for the technical college in Valdosta.

As a result, Wiregrass added two new programs that specifically prepare students for careers in agriculture. The Agribusiness Manager Technical Certificate of Credit program, which began in the 2014 fall semester, is designed to help students gain the tools for employment in agribusiness operations.

The other is an Agricultural Technology Diploma program, which begins in the 2015 spring semester and is “designed for a jack-of-all-trades in agriculture,” Hobby says.

“It’s sort of a conglomerate of things needed for someone who is basically an entrepreneur. That’s what most of our farmers are,” she says.

In addition to Valdosta, Wiregrass has campuses in Fitzgerald and Douglas.

Technical Schools Educate for Ag

Hands-on Training

Wiregrass is one of several technical colleges in Georgia that educate students to enter careers in agriculture, offering training that includes industrial systems programs, Horticulture, Diesel Mechanics and Accounting.

Ron Jackson, executive director of the Technical College System of Georgia, which oversees 24 colleges, says that traditional agriculture jobs such as raising livestock and crop management tend to come out of four-year colleges.

“We have a large number of programs that support the agriculture industry, anything that keeps a farm or agriculture business running. Many of our agriculture companies hire the folks who have the certificates and can do the work to help make their industry work,” Jackson says.

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In addition to the new programs it developed, Wiregrass has several programs that are traditional to a technical college, but also give students the skills to work in the ag industry.

“Some of our traditional programs give hands-on skills, as far as operating or maintaining equipment,” Hobby says. “These are probably the most common.”

Stephen Robert of Alapaha thought he might work at a factory when he first started in Wiregrass’ Industrial Systems program, but he soon realized the skills he was learning could be applied to work he had been used to on a farm.

“Working inside wasn’t for me,” says Robert, who does mechanical and electrical work on the irrigation system and other machinery at Dixon Farms in Tifton. “I had farmed my whole life. The education I got and all the stuff we learned in class kind of falls in line out here.”

Georgia's Technical Colleges [INFOGRAPHIC]

Fish & Wildlife Is Popular

Like Wiregrass, Moultrie Technical College has a range of programs that can lead to careers in agriculture. With campuses in Moultrie and Tifton, MTC’s lineup includes Welding and Joining Technology, Industrial Systems Technology, Commercial Truck Driving and Marketing Management.

One of the more visible programs at MTC is its Fish & Wildlife Management diploma that focuses on natural resource management and policy, outdoor recreation and parks management. The college has a 100-acre working laboratory in Tifton.

“Many of our graduates from that program tend to go to the large plantations, either working or managing them,” says Tina

Strickland, the college’s assistant vice president for academic affairs. “We have fisheries in this area as well, where many graduates can find jobs. We’re very pleased to have this program, and we’ve had good placement rates with it.”

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MTC also offers an Environmental Horticulture program highlighted by dual enrollment opportunities for students at Tiftarea Academy. The program prepares students to work in the landscape, greenhouse and nursery businesses. It emphasizes hands-on learning .

Other MTC ag-related certificate programs include floral assistant, garden center technician, lawn maintenance specialist and turfgrass maintenance.

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