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As I sit down to write this article and begin to realize it will most likely be the last time I get to have a conversation with you—dealer members who became my work family for the past 25 years—I feel like I should reflect and see if there was something of great importance that should be remembered. Well, sorry folks, I’m just not that prophetic in my writings over the years. But there was one thing that caught my eye as I reviewed past Retailer articles that I penned. One common theme kept popping up. You know the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?” With that in mind, I would like to reflect on an article I wrote for the 1998 February/March issue of the Retailer. The title was, “Recruitment, Education, and Training—A Lifetime Commitment.”

Everyone knows that finding and keeping great employees has been a major issue for farm equipment dealerships for many years. In the article I wrote 25 years ago, I described a scenario where I visited a local high school and talked with their student guidance counselor. Unfortunately, that conversation didn’t go very well, for as positively as I could describe the employment opportunities that were available in the farm equipment industry, the more push back I received from the guidance counselor. High school students need to be prepared for a four-year higher education experience in college to be a successful member of society. Anyone who was not capable of achieving a bachelor’s degree was most likely going to end up in a low wage service job that did not require much education beyond a high school diploma: fast food, janitorial, or (much to my dismay) service jobs in the auto, truck, and agricultural industry. These answers were coming from educators in rural high schools. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

My next stop was to find the vocational (shop) teacher at the school—if there was one—or the FFA program teacher sponsor. When I spoke with them, a completely different story emerged. I was shocked that I was still talking to someone from the same school system! The vocational teachers recognized that not all students are cut out for college life. They also recognized the excellent opportunities in the trade industries, especially agriculture, with new technologies coming to the forefront in that industry.

Fast forward to today, and that scenario has changed tremendously for the better. Obviously, the worker shortage persists, but I feel the education system finally realizes the great opportunities that exist in agriculture and the trades. More and more high schools are developing “Career Centers” or educational pathways to the trades that allow students the opportunity to work toward a trade skill and enter the work force sooner without accumulating mountains of debt. The farm equipment industry helped pave the way for this mindset transformation by educating students and educators about the opportunities students in agricultural production, repair and precision technologies. There is now acceptance within the educational system that these occupational opportunities need to be supported within schools.

And last but not least, farm equipment dealers should be congratulated for their persistence in making their case to parents and educators. Dealers have let their actions do the talking by offering scholarships, tool allowances, guaranteed job offerings, and tool loan debt forgiveness with length of service agreements. Farm equipment dealerships are one of the few places that offer an employment experience where a student can receive the education, training, and career opportunities without incurring debt.

And let’s talk about the job opportunities. For years, our industry has been looked upon as a low tech, low pay industry. You don’t have to spend much time reviewing the INEDA Wage and Salary Survey to figure out that just isn’t the case. These are now high paying jobs with great benefits and great opportunities for advancement.

And yet we still are struggling to find employees. I hope our industry continues to fight for the recognition it deserves in the career market for new employees. We have already made great strides in the ways we find employees, and if the demand stays as high as it is, we will continue to make progress in how we educate, recruit, and train our workforce.

Yes, it’s true—the more things change, the more they stay the same. Farm equipment dealers will continue to change their procedures in pursuit of the same goal—recruiting a qualified work force. Your business depends on it. Quite frankly, we all depend on it! Keep up the great work, dealers!

And the final, final word

I want everyone to know that the past 25 years working at INEDA has been a most rewarding experience for me. I can’t describe how appreciative I am of the welcome I have received from dealerships over the years. I truly hope it’s been as great of an experience for you as it has been for me. Together, we have accomplished so much in our efforts on the legislative and regulatory front, and INEDA has performed its mission well in being a one-stop shop for information and resources for dealers.

I am most pleased that Phil Erdman is taking up this mission from this point. If you have already had the chance to meet him, you know that Nebraska dealers are in good hands. If not, you will soon learn you are in better hands now than you were 25 years ago.