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Secretary of Agriculture: Apprenticeships Provide Affordable Career Pathways for Next Generation of Food and Agriculture Workers

11/19/2021

Harrisburg, PA – From Lancaster to State College, and Williamsburg to Pittsburgh, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding traveled Pennsylvania this week highlighting the commonwealth's seven state-certified agriculture apprenticeship programs and two pre-apprenticeships in honor of National Apprenticeship Week. Agriculture apprentices provide a pathway to fulfilling in-demand food and agriculture jobs, human capital that is critical to maintaining a safe, reliable food supply.

"Pennsylvania's agricultural workforce is key to ensuring food goes from farm gate to the dinner plate. As we hit the road for National Apprenticeship Week, we are reminded how skilled agricultural labor is essential for the functionality of our food system at every step of the supply chain," said Redding. "Apprenticeship programs are training the next generation of food and agriculture workers for in-demand, competitive jobs.

Pennsylvania has long faced an agricultural workforce shortage, especially in farming and technology-based roles. Apprentices are the future of the industry. Through paid, hands-on training, apprentices earn affordable skillsets that provide a pathway to meaningful, good paying jobs that support the stability of our food supply."

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Wendell Hurst, pre-apprentice at Binkley & Hurst, 17, works on the hydraulic system of a skid loader. Download this photo and more here.

In Lancaster County, Redding was joined by Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier at Binkley & Hurst. Binkley & Hurst prepares the next generation of equipment technicians through the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association's Agriculture Equipment Service Tech apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Competency-based programs, apprentices and pre-apprentices gain skills through hands-on learning. The apprenticeship program encompasses roughly 4,000 hours of on-the-job training and 800 hours of technical instruction, preparing apprentices for careers in equipment maintenance and repair. Currently, Binkley & Hurst is training three pre-apprentices, who are paid for their services as they learn the trade.

"Agriculture equipment continues to incorporate technology as innovative advancement allow the industry to produce more with less. We don't have enough labor, and we are farming on less land. Technology allows us to maximize our returns both in the field and in our workforce," said Tim Wentz, Northeast Equipment Dealers Association Executive Director. "The Northeast Equipment Dealers Association is excited to champion this apprenticeship program. It provides a clear and affordable pathway for individuals interested in careers as equipment technicians." 

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Butcher Apprenticeship Program students hone their skills through technical instruction at Penn State's Meats Lab. Download this photo and more here

In Centre County, Suzie Birchfield joined the Butcher Apprenticeship Program when she realized she wanted a new career. Raised on a poultry farm in Juniata County, Suzie pursued post-secondary education and taught elementary school, but a career in meat processing was always on her mind. When COVID-19 hit, she realized it was an opportunity to change careers and join an industry in need of skilled workers. She enrolled in Penn State's Meats Lab's Butcher Apprenticeship. Today, she is the first female to work on the processing floor at Peachy Foods in Belleville, PA with aspirations to one day own her shop. 


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William Benitez is a Dairy Grazer Apprentice at Clover Creek Cheese Cellar. Download this photo and more here

In Blair County, Redding joined Pasa Sustainable Agriculture's Dairy Apprentice Program at Clover Creek Cheese Cellar. The program pairs beginning farmers with mentors to provide a guided pathway toward managing or starting a pastured dairy farm. When William Benitez and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to rural Pennsylvania, he became interested in dairy farming after learning of opportunities at a nearby dairy farm, Clover Creek Cheese Cellar. William works alongside farm owner and operator David Rice, creating a hands-on experience that spans dairy management and on-farm value-added processing.

"Pasa Sustainable Agriculture is proud to be a part of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's celebration of National Apprenticeship Week," said Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture  From our first registered pre-apprenticeship program, for people just beginning to explore careers in agriculture, to our state- and federally recognized Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship and Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship programs that train people to manage farms or start their own, we know that farm-based apprenticeships are a win-win-win—for beginning farmers, for farms looking for a well-trained workforce, and for the future of our food system."

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Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding joined State Senator Lindsey Williams; Daniel Eichenlaub, Eichenlaub, Inc. President; Kendall Bomblatus; and Edgar Largaespada, Pittsburgh Workforce Development Board at Eichenlaub's Outdoor Living Studio to learn more about the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program. Download this photo and more here.

In Pittsburgh at Eichenlaub's Outdoor Living Studio, apprentices participate in the national Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program, administered by the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Apprentices acquire the knowledge and skills required to be a landscape management professional by completing more than 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and professional development. Eichenlaub, Inc. provides each apprentice with training, a professional mentor and progressively higher wages as skills and competencies increase.

"I've benefited from the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program throughout all 20 categories I completed. It increased my understanding of maintaining landscapes, irrigation, lighting, planting, pruning, and how landscape design gives clients their dream outdoor living space," said Zac Pulcini, Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program graduate. "This program will benefit my career moving forward and help me become a Landscape Designer."

"The Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program has increased the potential labor force by offering a career path in an earn while you learn opportunity," said Dan Eichenlaub, Eichenlaub, Inc. President. "The apprentices are willing to commit to the program because it is well structured, the content is very clear, the career path and benefits are understandable, and upon completion they are recognized as a professional with a national credential."

Pennsylvania's $132.5 billion agriculture industry fuels more than 593,000 jobs across the commonwealth, paying nearly $33 billion in wages each year. Over the next decade, agriculture is expected to face a workforce as farmers and laborers retire and new technology-based positions become available.

Recognizing workforce needs, Governor Wolf launched the PAsmart initiative, investing $30 million in job training and science and technology education. The initiative supports Registered Apprenticeship, Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship Ambassador Network Grants to support schools, students, workers and businesses across the commonwealth develop skilled workers for in-demand jobs.

"Pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships both provide an invaluable service to our local and statewide workforces, pairing classroom instruction with on-the-job skills training and the chance to earn while you learn," said Secretary of Labor & Industry Jennifer Berrier. "L&I estimates that nearly nine out of 10 apprentices are employed after they complete their apprenticeship, and the majority take jobs with a starting salary of $60,000 a year or more. Apprenticeships also allow Pennsylvanians to graduate with little to no student debt and the ability to build a rapport directly with an employer before they even graduate."

National Apprenticeship Week is a nationwide celebration bringing together industry, labor, equity, workforce, education and government leaders to showcase the successes and value of Registered Apprenticeship programs for developing a skilled workforce and strengthening the economy. National Apprenticeship Week is November 15-21, 2021.

To learn more about agriculture apprenticeship programs and workforce development initiatives, visit agriculture.pa.gov.

Note: Photo and video available at PAcast.com.

MEDIA CONTACT: Shannon Powers, Agriculture, shpowers@pa.gov

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