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IF-A Ag courses prep students for jobs

Future Farmers and Ranchers | IA

Posted on: Oct 04th 2017

Source: Times-Citizen Communications

IF-A Ag courses prep students for jobs

Doug Dodd has spent the last 22 years teaching agriculture courses to junior high and high school level students. Those who enroll in his courses are able to learn hands-on skills that prepare them for the real world.

While Dodd is an agriculture instructor, many of his course material and classes focus on preparing teenagers for life in the real world. One of his constant messages? There are plenty of jobs available in the trade industry that go unfilled.

It is his belief that some students are more likely to excel working with their hands rather than studying from a textbook.

“It’s unique in my area, because I have a lot of kids in my programs that are maybe not as motivated for the educational aspect of school. They might be heavily involved in leadership positions, or are more sports-minded students. Kids that can really excel working with their hands, but they just don’t excel at the book work of school. That’s the nicest way of saying it,” Dodd said.

Also the IF-A school district’s FFA advisor, Dodd said students don’t have to be experts at a particular craft to have a chance to grow and become successful in a job field. That includes electricians, apprenticeships and other positions.

During his two decades of teaching, Dodd said the technological world has reduced kids’ ability to pay attention to the finer details. He commented that students also don’t receive enough practice following instructions.

“I don’t think kids have changed, but their level of responsibility has been taken away. Kids that grow up on farms don’t have the same levels of responsibilities at a young age. I see it in my own kids, I see it in my students,” Dodd said. “My dad put me on a four-row cultivator and said ‘go cultivate corn.’ If I didn’t pay attention, and I caused damage in the field - which happened on more than one occasion - I would get in trouble. Today, kids push a button and go right back to their cell phones. It’s not their fault. I would do the same thing. It’s just the environment we are in.”

He said child labor laws that prohibit kids from running equipment are to blame. While Dodd said he was driving a tractor at 5 years of age, he has high school students now who wait to take drivers ed because they don’t feel comfortable driving a car.

Many - if not all - of the courses Dodd teaches attempt to prepare students to enter the manufacturing industry. That starts at an eighth-grade level with Introduction to Agriculture. For seven-week periods, Dodd works with eighth-grade students, hoping to expose them to as many agricultural and manufacturing jobs as possible.

“Regarding manufacturing, we are taking raw materials and turning them into something better. Growing corn, raising cattle, pigs or chickens. We want to get them as involved and as active as we can. We take field trips with them to see things, whether it’s our chapter test plot on the east side of town, or they can go in our ag shop and get exposed to things they can do when they become high school students,” Dodd said.

Right now, IF-A students are participating in a project with Iowa Select, one that has them working on an assembly line project, manufacturing sow waterers for hogs. While the project is also being used as an IF-A FFA fundraiser, Dodd said kids work in a team environment building a product from raw materials. Their work must meet the specifications given by Iowa Select.

While much of the work is repetitive, Dodd said he can typically gauge whether students take to that kind of work.

“It is repetitive work, but we try to make it fun. This is your alternative to make a living if you don’t get a college education. Some kids love it and are made for this kind of work. You can spot it in 20 minutes. Some kids do not educationally enjoy reading textbooks or getting ready to write papers. They would rather work with their hands,” Dodd said.

Students enrolled in IF-A’s Home Repair and Maintenance class discuss the possibility of obtaining a commercial driver’s license - something that is needed in the manufacturing world. Large semis are used to take manufactured products from point A to point B.

Dodd said his Animal Science class material centers around processing animals, and being consistent with documenting work. Those types of jobs are all about following protocol and instructions. Again, he believes that ties in with manufacturing work.

A freshman level class - Ag Food and Natural Resources - provides the opportunity to expose students to FFA competitions, which include dairy and dairy food contests. Dodd said there is a need for dairy manufacturing workers, and that heightens the importance of offering that experience to teenagers.

Also, Dodd’s Home Repair and Maintenance class allows students to participate in welding and iron work, electricity/plumbing, concrete work and more.

“All of this comes down to being exposed to it. You don’t have to be an expert today to have a career in a field down the road. Kids would rather be labeled as lazy than to have failed at anything,” Dodd said. “We have other hands-on vocational programs that do expose them to careers that are not normal white-collar jobs.”

Dodd said he recently read an article about an Arkansas school district that is actively participating in farm-to-school beef processing.

“They are raising cattle and they are going to start supplying their school with beef for the entire school year. That’s a goal we have here,” Dodd Said. “Kids don’t think of raising cattle as manufacturing job, but I would love nothing more than to teach meat science so people understand where their food comes from.”

By: Justin Ites

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