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Trust in Growth: Career Development Opportunities for Agriculture Students in Southern California.

In career and technical education (CTE) courses, students can develop their knowledge and skills to become college and career ready. CTE courses offer unique opportunities for students to combine academic knowledge and technical skills in hands-on, real-world settings. The knowledge and skills gained in CTE courses prepare students to enter the workforce as well-trained, highly qualified employees. Due to California's growing population, diverse landscape and immense size, the state is home to a wide variety of industries and fields. To meet the growing need for employees to fill positions in these industries, California educators are placing a greater emphasis on CTE experiences.

In efforts to enhance CTE opportunities, the California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT) awarded one-time competitive state grants to school districts, county superintendents, direct-funded charter schools, and community colleges to establish or expand CTE pathway programs. In response to the unique opportunity the CCPT provided, the South Coast Regional Agricultural Education Consortium (SCRAEC) was founded in 2014. The SCRAEC is comprised of 21 school districts, encompassing 29 high school agricultural programs, as well as two community colleges, with more than 80 agricultural teachers and 7,600 students representing Los Angeles, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Ventura counties.

After being awarded CCPT funds in 2015, the consortium began utilizing grant resources to enhance specific pathways by increasing pathway enrollment, encouraging pathway completion, providing students with the opportunity to earn industry certifications, increasing work-based learning opportunities and expanding opportunities to gain industry experience as a part of their pathway program.

Meeting the Industry Need

While the agriculture and natural resources industry sector encompasses a wide variety of career fields, the SCRAEC sought to serve the agriscience and agricultural mechanics pathways specifically. These pathways were selected based on 2014 pathway enrollment numbers and workforce development data. The targeted pathways for improvement were selected by aligning the region's most promising high-skill, high-wage fields in agriculture with the availability of entry-level positions in the region's agriculture and natural resources sectors.

California agriculture continues to thrive as a viable opportunity for job placement. California operates one of the most diverse and productive agricultural industries in the world. The California agricultural industry contributes $59.2 billion to the state economy annually (Applied Development Economics, 2019). More than 400 agricultural commodities are produced in California, with more than a third of the nation's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts grown each year (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2018). California leads the nation in cash farm receipts, accounting for more than 13% of the nation's total agricultural value (Applied Development Economics, 2019; California Community College Centers of Excellence, 2014). In 2017, California agricultural exports totaled nearly $21 billion in value (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2018).

Monterey County, one of the largest counties in the SCRAEC, relies heavily on the agricultural industry for economic stability. The Monterey County agricultural industry provides more than 76,000 jobs and contributes $8.1 billion to the local economy. In Monterey County, one in four employees works in an agriculture-related career (California Community College Centers of Excellence, 2019). In San Luis Obispo County, another large county in the SCRAEC, agriculture contributes $1.87 billion to the economy and employs one in 10 individuals (California Community College Centers of Excellence, 2019).

Research studies have estimated more than 8,400 agricultural positions are created annually within the South Central Coast region (Applied Development Economics, 2019). While available labor market data is primarily production-driven, it frequently ignores other occupations that sustain the agricultural industry. Careers in the financing, appraising, marketing, journalism, law, quality assurance, commodity brokering, accounting, dispatching and purchasing fields fuel the $3.3 billion agricultural industry in the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. These counties all rank in the top-producing counties in California, with Ventura County ranking eighth, Santa Barbara County placing 13th, and San Luis Obispo County standing 15th (California Community College Centers of Excellence, 2019). Throughout the region, careers in agricultural production and food processing are on the rise.

Additionally, local advisory boards, which include representatives from industry, workforce development agencies, community members, educational leaders and civic organizations, have repeatedly indicated the need for competent employees in the agricultural field. The need expands to include all aspects of the industry, with a strong focus on problem-solving capabilities and personal responsibility. Agricultural employers have identified a shortage of technical skills but also a lack of adequate employability skills in potential employees (Applied Development Economics, 2019). Regional labor development plans call for basic entrepreneurship and employability skills training, as well as work-based learning experiences across all industry sectors, including agriculture. Based on the need for more highly skilled workers in the California agricultural industry, the SCRAEC utilized CCPT funding to provide more opportunities for SCRAEC students to become career-ready by developing their agricultural knowledge and skills.

Increased Pathway Enrollment and Completion

Throughout four years of successful CCPT grant implementation, the SCRAEC has realized multiple accomplishments. The agriscience pathway experienced an enrollment increase of 6.1%, and enrollment in the agricultural mechanics pathway increased by 14.8% (CCPT-SCRAEC, 2019). As a result of the pathway expansion, a need developed for more highly qualified, properly credentialed agricultural teachers to serve the growing programs. To help resolve this, the SCRAEC introduced an event to promote agricultural education careers to high school students, particularly positions focused on agricultural mechanics. The Agricultural Mechanics Power & Design (AMP'D) Experience is held annually during the summer and hosts 20 skilled agricultural mechanics pathway students to hone their skills and promote the field of teaching.

During the AMP'D Experience, students participate in six skill sessions led by California agricultural mechanics teachers and are scored by preservice teachers from California Polytechnic State University. Along with the skill sessions, AMP'D hosts guest speakers and team building activities for the students to develop their leadership and employability skills.

In conjunction with increased pathway enrollment, the number of pathway completers increased by 43% for agriscience and 62% for agricultural mechanics. To complement this, the number of students graduating with a diploma or completion of a general education diploma also increased. Graduation rates grew by 4% for agriscience students and increased by 3% for agricultural mechanics students (CCPT-SCRAEC, 2019). To allow for continuity of pathway development, special projects with two community college partners resulted in multiple associate degrees for transfer programs, stackable certificates in technical content areas, and dual enrollment opportunities for students who wished to continue their agriscience and agricultural mechanics pathways in the postsecondary setting. The SCRAEC has worked to ensure pathway development does not end when a student graduates from high school, in the hope they will continue to develop skills necessary to succeed in today's agricultural workforce.

Earning Industry Certifications

To accompany the development of technical skills in agriculture, the consortium sought to strengthen students' career readiness through industry certifications. Industry certifications verify an individual's knowledge and skills in a specific area or field. By assessing industry-recognized standards, an industry certification validates an individual as being qualified and prepared to enter the workforce. Additionally, industry certifications allow employers to identify and connect with skilled candidates, filling gaps in the labor market and jump-starting careers.

SCRAEC teachers opted to include industry certifications available on the iCEV testing platform in their courses. iCEV, a division of CEV Multimedia, hosts 15 industry certifications from 11 industry leaders. The certifications available on the iCEV testing platform were developed by leading industry experts to address the growing need for more skilled workers.

In the past four years, 4.724 SCRAEC students have earned industry certifications tested on the iCEV platform. Of the total certification earners, 1,117 students earned the Benz School of Floral Design Principles of Floral Design Certification. Seven hundred and sixteen students completed the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification, and 651 students earned the Elanco Veterinary Medical Applications Certification (CEV Multimedia, 2019). The Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification was completed by 692 students, and 447 students earned the Express Employment Professionals Career Preparedness Certification. Four hundred sixty-one students earned the Bayer Crop Science Plant Science Certification (CEV Multimedia, 2019).

Other industry certification earners have completed the American Meat Science Association Culinary Meat Selection and Cookery Certification, the American Meat Science Association Food Safety and Science Certification, and the American Meat Science Association Meat Evaluation Certification. Students have also earned the Equipment and Engine Training Council Principles of Small Engine Technology Certification, the Express Employment Professional Business Office Technology Certification, the Center for Financial Responsibility Personal Financial Literacy Certification, the National Collegiate Livestock Coaches' Association Principles of Livestock Selection and Evaluation Certification, and the National Horse Judging Team Coaches' Association Equine Management and Evaluation Certification.

Work-based Learning

Work-based learning has flourished in the SCRAEC since CCPT grant implementation. While experiential learning has always been an active component of school-based agricultural education in California, particularly in the form of entrepreneurial-based student projects, CCPT funding has allowed for additional opportunities in job shadowing, mentoring, and work experience. In some instances, students have received dual enrollment credit at the local community college for their work experience projects. Further, some programs initiated local job shadow days, with a significant number of participants; industry representatives hosted roundtable conversations with the students to discuss and evaluate their shadowing experiences.

Industry Tours

Additionally, funding has been used to facilitate student and teacher industry tours within the region to enable career exploration and to provide insight into the training and skills needed to fill positions in high-skill, high-wage job areas in the agriculture industry. In 2017, an agricultural industry roadshow was conducted to allow CTE teachers to develop a deeper understanding of the California agricultural industry and the job opportunities available to students. Teachers who attended the 2017 roadshow toured Central Coast Creamery, an artisan cheese facility, to observe careers in food science. At Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, which produces medical silicone, teachers were exposed to jobs in engineering and fabrication. The Firestone Walker Brewing Company offered an opportunity to explore fermentation science and construction careers.

SCRAEC students also had opportunities to expand their knowledge of California agriculture. Students learned about the wide variety of career opportunities in forestry and natural resources from their tour at the Swanton Pacific Ranch, an educational and research facility operated by Cal Poly. At the Gizdich Ranch, an agritourism operation focused on fresh fruit orchards, students explored unique agricultural entrepreneurship opportunities. From the tours at Tanimura & Antle, a fresh produce distributor, and the El Camino Machine Shop, students learned about the need for individuals who are well-trained and qualified to operate agricultural machinery. Industry tours have allowed teachers and students to gain a deeper appreciation for the breadth of the agricultural industry in California as well as the variety of careers available, and they have gained unique insight into the specialized skills needed to find success in agricultural careers.

King City High School

As one of the schools incorporated in the SCRAEC, King City High School found particular success from utilizing CCPT funds to enhance opportunities in their agricultural science program. Located in Monterey County, King City High School serves a rural student population. The agricultural science program instructs approximately 600 of the nearly 1,100 students at King City. According to the school, 86% of the students are Hispanic, and more than 200 students are English language learners (ELLs) (Education Data Partnership, 2019).

For these reasons, the agricultural science teachers at King City High School were excited about the chance to offer their students the opportunity to earn an industry certification. Since implementation in 2016, 360 King City students have earned an industry certification and, as a result, King City teachers have seen their students' knowledge and skills expand (CEV Multimedia, 2019). Several King City students who received an industry certification were able to gain employment in their certification area because their knowledge and skills were confirmed by an industry leader.

"I would suggest any high school CTE teacher get on board and see what an impact this [industry certifications] can provide," said Patrick Smith, King City agricultural instructor. "I see a lot of high schools throughout the state, and throughout the country, moving in this direction because it provides evidence for these students. I think it's going to connect a bridge between industry and education which is outstanding."

By utilizing the CCPT funds to offer industry certifications, King City educators have given their students the opportunity to become college and career ready by enhancing their technical and employability skills. Because they earned an industry certification, the King City students are ready to enter the workforce; they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to be productive and successful employees in the agricultural and natural resources industries.

The SCRAEC has been able to fulfill their goal of increasing pathway enrollment and completion rates, offering more options for industry involvement and work-based learning experiences, and providing students the chance to earn industry certifications. These opportunities allowed the students to enhance their academic knowledge and technical skills, making them more qualified and prepared to fill the estimated 132,000 new California agricultural jobs projected to be available in the next five years (California Community College Centers of Excellence, 2014). Production and employment trends indicate that by 2022, there will be 13,900 additional openings in the agriculture cluster along the South Central Coast (Applied Development Economics, 2019). Because of the knowledge and skills gained from CTE courses, and the opportunities provided by resources from CCPT, the SCRAEC students are ready to fill highly specialized and in-demand positions in the California agricultural industry.

By Erin Gorter

Erin Gorter, Ed.D., is a California native and proudly serves as the president-elect for the California Agricultural Teachers' Association and as program director for the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. She also works as a part-time lecturer in the Agricultural Communication and Education Department at California Polytechnic State University where she trains future agricultural science teachers. Email her at


Applied Development Economics. (2019). California agricultural industry cluster final report. Prepared for the Agriculture, Water, & Environmental Technology Sector for the California Community College System.

California Community College Centers of Excellence. (2019). Labor market data [Excel file]. Retrieved from

California Community College Centers of Excellence. (2014). Agriculture value chain: Workforce overview [PDF file]. Retrieved from

California Department of Food and Agriculture. (2018). California agriculture statistics review: 2017-2018. Retrieved from

CCPT-SCRAEC. (2019). Consortium facts. Retrieved from

CEV Multimedia. (2019) [Industry Certification Earners from iCEV Testing Platform]. Unpublished raw data.

Education Data Partnership. (2019). King City High. Retrieved from
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Author:Gorter, Erin
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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