West Virginia: A diploma just won’t do it for ag students, certificate shows skills

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diploma and tassel

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia and Ohio students centering their scholarly attention on agriculture can now graduate and convince future employers they do know something about the subject.

A growing consumer demand for locally produced foods is creating a job market for West Virginia workers in dozens of fields, and state officials have started a program that will help recent graduates find those business owners.

Certificate offered

The West Virginia Department of Education now awards an Agriculture Education Concentration Certificate of Completion that students can use to document various agricultural specialties. This certificate also gives business owners an opportunity to recruit workers they know have the job skills they need. The 2014-2015 school year was the first year the certificate was available.

Areas of study

In West Virginia, agriculture education certificates are offered in agribusiness, animal systems, food products and processing, natural resources, plant systems and power, structural and technical systems.

“This helps give the graduates a leg up when talking to employers,” said Jason Hughes, assistant director in the West Virginia Office of Career and Technical Instruction.

Standards met

The certificate tells the employer the students know or are able to do the standards established by the West Virginia Career and Technical office. Hughes said before the certificate was introduced, the office rewrote the curriculum and standards and aligned it with what employees say students should know. Industry representatives were consulted during the development of the curricula, as well as West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick and his predecessor, the late Gus Douglass.

West Virginia Department of Agriculture employees and other subject matter experts collaborated on the development of the program and endorse what the certificate means to students and future employers.

Certificate requirements

In order to receive a certificate, students have to have an agriculture concentration in their technical training. This includes a basic agriculture class, a core class and then more specific courses. For example, if they want to pursue something in the horticulture industry, they would take a basic horticulture class, followed by a core horticulture class and then a couple of elective classes such as plant systems, fruits and vegetables or turf landscaping. Students can concentrate on agribusiness systems, animal systems (livestock) or small animals. This can be applicable to a student who wants to work as a veterinarian assistant), animal processing or natural resource management.

Supervised experience

In addition, students have to spend two years in a supervised agriculture experience as they participate in FFA. SAEs are career-oriented, hands-on experiences that round out classroom discussion and leadership development in FFA.

One of the primary advantages of an SAE is that students can develop a project or program according to their interests and abilities. As long as the SAE is relevant to agriculture, it counts. The SAE can be working for someone on a farm or a self-propelled program. For example, if the student raises his own cattle herd, that can substitute as part of the SAE.

Employee marketing

Hughes said the certificate also gets a student’s foot in the door for many jobs, not just those ag-related.

“We think it really means something,” said Hughes.

He said the oil and gas industry often calls looking for agriculture trained students, so students can possibly land a job in that field as well.

“It also gives students a sense of accomplishment when they complete it,” said Hughes.

Ohio efforts

In Ohio, the Ohio Agribusiness Association has been working with the Ohio Department of Education to create a similar certificate for agriculture students. The association is hopeful that the program will begin next school year, and the OABA board is voting on the project at its June 17 board meeting. The program, as outlined now, will require students to complete four agribusiness and production systems pathways while they are in high school

Courses needed

The courses to be offered include agriculture, food and natural resources course; animal and plant science; agronomic systems; mechanical principles (structural engineering); and livestock selection, nutrition and management. Students will also need to complete one of the following two courses: business management for agricultural and environmental systems and global economics and food markets.

Experience

In addition, students must also complete a supervised agriculture experience, which includes entrepreneurship, research or complete a placement. The student must also document at least 500 hours in a journal with skills identified in relation to the Ohio Career Field Technical content standards.

Christopher Henney, president and chief executive officer for the OABA, said many jobs in the agriculture field require a four-year degree or certification. He added this agriculture credential program gives those students a leg up against other job competitors.

Job candidates

For OABA members, as employers, the certificate gives them something to help screen job candidates.

“The credentials help OABA members recognize that the student has been involved in agriculture for a while. It also tells them that the candidate has some training and has done the work in order to get the credit. It gives the student the extra push when put up against other job applicants,” said Henney.

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