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Cornell CALS co-hosts event to foster rural workforce development

A man in a suit stands behind a podium

Rural areas across the U.S. face unique challenges when it comes to developing and retaining their workforce. The issues go beyond basic “brain drain,” a term used when smart, talented people leave small hometowns for opportunities in bigger cities.
 
To better understand and address these complex issues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Agency is conducting listening sessions across the country to brainstorm more effective ways to keep rural areas vibrant, productive and entrepreneurial.
 
On Sept. 13, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the Rural Schools Association (RSA) of New York State, the USDA and New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR) co-hosted the Northeast Region Rural Workforce Summit on the Ithaca campus. The event brought together researchers, policy makers, administrators and educators from across New York state.
 
Two members of the Department of Development Sociology shared their expertise in an afternoon panel centered around success stories and best practices. Robin Blakely-Armitage, senior extension associate and program manager with the Community & Regional Development Institute (CaRDI), spoke about the different demographics within New York state. John Sipple, associate professor and director of CaRDI and the NYS Center for Rural Schools, discussed the connections between rural education and local participation in the workforce, in addition to the limitations of current rural development programs.
 
“One-off policies and programs that do not link with the ‘thicker’ needs of individuals, families and communities are less likely to meet the local needs of a community,” said Sipple. “Integrating our understandings of policy and practice related to agriculture, land use, energy, healthcare, taxation, childcare, education and infrastructure is essential to the development of coherent and effective rural workforce development programs.”
 
Opening remarks were made by David Little, executive director of the Rural Schools Association of New York State, Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS, and Richard Mayfield, state director of New York USDA Rural Development.
 
“As part of our mission as a Land-Grant institution, Cornell CALS is committed to developing the talent pipelines that support New York’s rural economies,” Boor said. “Our many programs and partnerships respond to the needs of local communities, as well as to the demands of industries that increasingly require specialized training and certification.”
 
According to a USDA report commissioned from Purdue University about jobs in the food, agriculture and STEM fields, there will be more than 57,000 jobs opening in these fields. However, only 20,000 students a year graduate with bachelor’s degrees in related STEM fields.  
 
In the keynote address, Kevin King, deputy commissioner of agriculture and markets, talked about how some of the current challenges faced by food and farm systems can be turned into opportunities for new partnerships. For example, collaboration between academia and private industry could lead to continual workforce training, including how to use technology related to digital agriculture and helping farmers make more informed decisions.
 
“A rapidly changing and modern economy will require new skill sets for our future workforce,” Mayfield said. “Summits like these are crucial to understanding the challenges and needs of our rural stakeholders—including businesses and the education sector—so we can craft an effective strategy for the future. Because when we work together, America prospers.”
 
The event concluded with roundtable discussions inviting all participants to become a part of the solution, plans for keeping rural development agencies engaged with the needs of their communities and ideas for better pathways to training opportunities.
 
This event was sponsored by the Rural Schools Association of NYS.
 
 
Jana Wiegand is the content manager at the CALS Office of Marketing and Communications.