Future Technician Preparation (Agriculture)

Continuing our initial discussion of our “Work to do for Future Technician Preparation theme", the National Science Foundation is extremely interested in what technician education should "look-like" because new and near future advancements in science, engineering, and technology are changing American industry.   (A reader might wonder why Mathematics was not listed.  Math is the heart and soul of STEM.  It is imbedded in every significant achievement in science, engineering, and technology.  

However, our position is not that mathematics has new and future advances rather mathematics' impact increases as our understanding of its complicated nuances becomes secured.  This is especially the situation related to the subtle use of Boolean and matrix algebra operators.)  The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program involves partnerships between academic institutions and industry to promote and execute improvement in the education of technicians.  The ATE program's focus includes, but is not limited to, advanced manufacturing technologies, agricultural and bio-technologies, energy and environmental technologies, engineering technologies, information technologies, micro- and nanotechnologies, security technologies, geospatial technologies, and applied research on technician education.

The "agriculture" part of NSF-ATE agricultural and bio-technologies technician education mission is an outstanding example of what specific contributions from science, technology and engineering combined with some great new applications of mathematics has and continues to do.  However, other than perhaps some people noticing that farm equipment is getting bigger and perhaps more "fancy" there is very little outward sign of what new innovations are doing in this sector and why or what it has to do with technician education. Like the manufacturing sector discussed in last month's FLATE Focus, technical education in agriculture has an interesting double edge quality and corresponding challenge.

There is a classic observation that dates back to the beginning of the industrial revolution in America:  If your industry needs to create a skilled worker start with a farmer.  A farmer is already trained (often self-trained) to deal with the technical issues on the farm.  The farmer integrates the technology of a farm and the actual "farming" into a single daily fluid motion life style that accomplishes the goal (everything done well enough and on time to have a crop heading to market). This ingenuity means that a farmer is always a good candidate employee for any technical related industry.  It also means that when the agro-industry sectors are targets for an A.S. degree technician preparation program "Future of Work" issues, those issues have a double edged challenge to be dealt with.  Is the new technology to be introduced into the A.S. degree focused on the perspective of a farmer that has to use it or a worker that is expected to manufacture, trouble shoot, and/or maintain it?

"The Future of Work" reality generates an interesting question. Is the impact on a farmer satisfied if the new equipment has a diagnostic display to identify a problem and someone else fixes that problem?  If so the agro-industry, technician programs will only need to address the other sectors of that industry.  These programs will most likely be a blend of “Future of Work” generated new skill and knowledge subsets that will also be introduced in other A.S. degree programs.  The actual farmer will just become a consumer of the technologies being installed on the farm (much like our own interactions with the new technologies in our home). 

A blend of new skills from other technician programs in the agro-industry sectors except the "farmer" sector is the most likely approach to "Future of Work" impacted technician education. Today's farmer will still need to act in a timely manner when an "on the spot" technology driven interaction stops the farmer’s daily flow of tasks. Thus, what and how we create, blend, and implement "Future of Work" skills and technical knowledge into the farmer/technician world "back on the farm" is a good discussion initiation point because it is the most complication scenario for A.S. agro-based programs to address.When is the farmer the technician and the technician the farmer? 

In summary, it's time to repeat our mantra. "The work to do starts with you."  What do you think the farmer-technician interface will look like on a farm recognizing: that all of today's farm will have to use new technologies: that today's farm range from a classic "Mom and Pop" through a co-op to a large corporate operation?  Please let us know what you think with an email to Dr. Richard Gilbert, gilbert@usf.edu.