Community Panel Discussion 11/15/12


First Community Panel Discussion, Thursday, November 15, 2012

Summary of Discussion

Harvey Smith–grass fed beef farmer and Steve Dupoise former owner of County Tire joined us and spent close to two hours sharing their insights and feedback about our students, the industries they represent and the qualities they feel are critical to successful careers for our students.

Has hired many of our grads seasonally as well as full-time, provided job shadowing opportunities and served on the recent hiring committee for Auto Tech. He indicted that he believes our graduates have the training/technical knowledge and more importantly the attitude needed to succeed in his industry. He said that some grads only want to learn the tire business and others who are highly motivated go on to post secondary and learn the electronics needed for the trade. He expressed interest in meeting as an advisory council 3-4 times/year to discuss the program and any trends/issues in the industry. He mentioned that he believes that over time there are fewer small tire and auto shops in Addison County. He has little turnover in his business so full time hires stay loyal to his business. He emphasized the importance of work skills and life skills stressing that attitude is everything but questioned whether its possible to teach. He only wants employees who are able to work well with peers, bosses and customers. He described three critical qualities: effective communications, customer relations and attitude. He mentioned that work based learning and exposure to work places helps students determine if this is the career for them and establishes realistic student expectations about what the work environment will be like so they are better able to adjust. He believes that college credits for programs of study are valuable because they are motivating and imply quality in the program. He feels that HCC is providing his business with quality employee candidates and HCC understands the skills needed for his industry.

Mr. Smith explained that he feels that young people today need to be exposed to more work based learning opportunities saying that everyone used to have those opportunities but few do now. Recent college graduates must have a resume that demonstrates work experience AND their college accomplishments in order to find work after they earn their degrees. There was a lengthy discussion about the role of technology in the farming and ag business and that it has been largely beneficial to farmers and their work. He indicated that in his current business he uses technology for bookkeeping and direct marketing primarily. He described how he has experimented with his farming practices to both minimize the environmental impact of farming but also to increase profitability. He said that HCC should be providing their Ag students with experience in cutting-edge technology so they graduate with the best “tools”. He believes that Addison County lags neighboring areas in its preparation of productive conditions for crops (such as grains). He said that students in Ag must understand the importance of diversification and how that can add profits to the business but also flatten revenues during otherwise poor seasons. Examples he gave included biodigesters that provide electricity back to the grid, bottling milk on the farm, and farmers growing their own grain for their herds. He also emphasized that there has never been so many resources available to help farm businesses grow, expand and be profitable and that students need to know how to access those resources. To summarize, he believes that ag students need to approach their careers as a business, thinking always about profitability. They need to be nimble, resilient and curious about changes in their industry. Networking with others and being able to communicate effectively will also enable them to be leaders in ag. He said that providing students with leadership opportunities such as FFA is valuable.

Overall, there were two themes that continued to surface: the importance of attitude and essential work skills and an intellectual curiosity to pursue lifelong learning through professional development, technical assistance and/or research. Finally, there was a discussion about the value of mentoring both through job shadowing and other venues and that for some students it can be critical to their success.

Our next community panel is targeted for January 2013 and should feature HCC alumni.