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Essential skills working in agriculture
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 In this past Thursday’s Tribune on the opinion page there was a column by Veronica Coons.  The column mentioned a firm was expanding into Hoisington and the head of the firm, which has multiple locations, was lamenting the lack of quality workers.  He spoke to a lack of what society terms “soft skills” or skills in addition to those unique for a given profession.  Items such as punctuality, responsibility, dedication, and so on.  

The Technical Division at Barton Community College terms these skills “Essential Skills.”  Each program, from nursing to auto and business to agriculture has its own advisory board made up in large part of members involved in the given industry.  Over seven years ago, the division was concerned about what advisory board members were saying about skills potential employees lacked, comments similar to those voiced by the gentlemen mentioned in the first paragraph.  So the division made a formal survey of advisory board members, there are over fifteen industry advisory boards, faculty and students regarding this area.  Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, all three groups came up with pretty much the same items.  This resulted in the Technical Division developing and implementing the Essential Skills curriculum and integrating it into the classroom.  A curriculum under continuous revision that is constantly evaluated by advisory board members.  Before going on, it is important to point out a lack of these skills isn’t confined to a particular age group and there are many young people attending Barton already in pretty good command of these skills and nontraditional, older, students almost completely lacking in them.  Some members of various age groups seem further along in developing these skills, students growing up on the farm for example.  So what do all of Barton’s technical programs, including agriculture address as Essential Skills?

Barton has broken these skills down into four main areas: Self-Management Skills, Interpersonal Skills, Workforce Skills, and Applied Skills.  Briefly, self-management includes items such as dependability and integrity; interpersonal involves skills including respect, teamwork, and communication; workforce skills revolve around professionalism, problem solving, and customer service; and finally applied skills instruction includes items such as reading, mathematics, and critical thinking.  These skills are constantly under review and are changed/revised based upon the continuous input of our advisory board members.  As an example, the Agricultural Advisory Board as well as others saw a growing problem with social media like Facebook and texting not only during work hours but outside of them.  They also brought forward a lack of basic computer skills that are part of most every job in agricultural in some form or fashion.  This resulted in changes being made to the curriculum and as time goes on further changes will be made.

Will this effort result in every student possessing these skills?  Of course not.  But for those who gain these skills, they will find a greater level of success in their work life and just as importantly in their personal lives.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.