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Shaping the ag workforce

An old Chinese proverb about education says, “If you are plan­ning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

Regardless of the path we’ve cho­sen, it should be evident to each of us that life is a process of continu­ous learning.

Education must be a priority for any successful company. Success comes from a focus on current staff development as well as providing educational and training oppor­tunities for the future workforce. As MFA customers, you demand a talented team. The best way to have a talented, productive staff is to en­sure they are educated and trained.

The speed of change drives the need for updated skills. It calls for workers to adapt quickly, learn new approaches, think more critically and collaborate with people they may never meet face-to-face.

We have extensive internal pro­grams to ensure current employees stay abreast of trends and changes. Technological advancements in products, equipment and software mean constant learning. The result means more hours in the training room than many would like, but it’s a necessary part of doing business. Studies show that as much as 50% of the current workforce will need “reskilling” in the next five years. We are committed to providing opportunities to make that happen.

In the broader outlook, MFA’s long-term planning includes a directive to help develop the future workforce. While the focus may change over time, supporting education has been a part of MFA since at least 1954, when the MFA Foundation began.

The MFA Foundation provides scholarships to graduating high school seniors who continue their education in a two- or four-year degree program. For the past 14 years, the amount awarded has been $2,000 each. Traditionally, it is one of the highest amounts in our trade territory. You can see this year’s scholarship recipients begin­ning on page 14 of this issue.

Through 2020, this scholarship was open to any student attending a school sponsored by an MFA Oil, MFA Incorporated or local affili­ate facility. The foundation made changes for the 2021 program in response to concerns and sugges­tions from our membership. For 2021, eligible students included only children or grandchildren (in­cluding step-children) of members or member-level customers in the non-patronage business operations. The change also brought an oppor­tunity for home-schooled students to earn the scholarship.

Summer 2021 also is year nine for MFA’s Ag Experience Program. Each year since 2013, we have offered internships to 12 to 15 college students. Based on career interests, interns are matched with MFA staff throughout our trade area. While most have been in the retail and sales areas, others have explored grain, accounting, feed, communications and Health Track.

The Ag Experience is a unique opportunity for students to explore career options and get paid for it. The program also allows them to evaluate MFA as a future employer, and for MFA to evaluate the student as a potential employee. We have hired many of the top students who completed the program.

The 2020-21 school year marked year two of the Custom Applicator Program at State Tech in Linn, Mo. The program was co-developed by MFA and State Tech to address a shortfall of applicators in our trade area. Accepted students agree to a two-year education program with two paid summer internships. We provide up to $15,000 to cover tuition in exchange for a three-year commitment to work for MFA.

Our company also provides other monetary support for higher education in the trade area, mainly through the MFA Foundation. In June, the trustees voted to donate funding for the Ranken Technical College being built in Ashland, Mo. We recognize that our future work­force needs don’t always require the traditional four-year degree.

It is no secret there is a labor shortage right now. We can blame the pandemic and government subsidies as part of the reason, but we also recognize our industry has long suffered from labor issues. Recruitment is difficult for the hard work and time demands in agricul­ture. And it’s not just agriculture. Other industries are suffering from the shortage. It’s a genuine chal­lenge across the country.

When you look at the future of agriculture, there is probably no greater impact we can make today than providing educational and training opportunities. Those areas are where we can generate oppor­tunities for our customers, MFA and the next generation. MFA is committed to doing its part.

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