Ag equipment program opens doors for next generation

Agricultural equipment dealers are working with Saskatchewan high schools to find a new generation of employees.

Many of the 125 farm dealerships in the province have at least a couple openings for agricultural equipment technicians.

"Where dealers use to get people walking in the door looking for jobs, now they are having to go search for them," says Larry Hertz, vice-president, Canada for the Western Equipment Dealers Association.

The association anticipates additional openings in the future as current employees begin to retire.

Finding the new generation

Discussions started last spring between WEDA and the Sun West School Division to develop an online elective program for Grade 11 and 12 students across the province. The school division now offers the program through its established distance learning centre.

The Agricultural Equipment Technician program  has three components: 50 hours of online instruction, a 40 hour practical work study at a local agriculture dealership and a two-day boot camp at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Saskatoon, where the post-secondary training occurs.

Attracting student attention

Darren Gasper, a Sun West superintendent, says more students are looking at the trades as an alternative to university.

"I think students are realizing there are some well-paying careers in the trades," Gasper says. "They certainly have an appeal for kids that realize that they can get a great career right in their local community. That's a real plus for them."

The school division held a career fair in Rosetown and more than 40 students expressed an interest in the program and toured a local dealership. 

Various career opportunities

The new course is not restricted to students with farm experience or rural backgrounds. Those with an interest in computers, electronics and new technology are an excellent fit, says Tyson Friend, the service manager at a farm equipment dealership in Outlook, Sask.

"There are computer-controlled engines and transmissions, advanced electronics, onboard GPS," Friend says. "We use computers and diagnostic software to solve problems with all kinds of equipment.

In addition to agricultural equipment technicians, dealerships also need parts and sales people. The new course covers all aspects of the business.

Hertz says agricultural equipment dealerships remain a male-dominated industry, but he would like to see that change.

"I know well over 50 per cent of students in university agronomy and agribusiness programs are female and I would like to the same thing happen in the farm equipment industry," Hertz says.

Hertz also wants the Saskatchewan program to become a model for school districts throughout North America.

Online opportunities

The Sun West DLC offers a number of online agricultural-related courses on food production , cow-calf production  and equine studies.

Bottom line

High school courses like the Agricultural Equipment Technician program provide great opportunities to enjoy a fulfilling career at an agricultural equipment dealership while earning an above average income in your local community or in a major centre.

Article by: Neil Billinger