- PAT Leader: Ivory W. Lyles (email@example.com)
- USDA-NIFA Liaison: Ray Ali (firstname.lastname@example.org); “Steve” Shoushan Zeng (email@example.com)
- Extension Foundation Contacts: Megan Hirschman (firstname.lastname@example.org); Robert Russell (email@example.com); Jason Weigle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Land-grant university System may not be the first institution that comes to mind when you think of our country’s historical link to economic and workforce development. But its connection to improving county or rural life and ultimately its workforce goes back many years to the early 1900s.
Today, Extension Educators are taking both systems-driven and audience-driven approaches to supporting economic and workforce development. Extension programs serve youth audiences, adult audiences, new populations, and vulnerable populations.
By 2026, the agricultural and food sectors will be composed of over 21 million full and part-time
jobs, and that number continues to rise annually (NASDA, 2022). This demonstrates the
importance of supporting a stable agricultural workforce.
How is the Cooperative Extension System Responding?
Extension professionals have historically relied on timely research-based content and interpersonal and group-process skills to make the connection with the people they serve. The knowledge base has mirrored the evolving needs of society, from the initial adoption of new farm practices to today’s inclusion of youth-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) opportunities (Gould, Steele, and Woodrum 2014). These can be easily seen in Extension’s work with youth career readiness, in specific areas such as robotics, and in human and animal health. Interpersonal and group process skills have also had to evolve from the early field demonstration projects with agents as group organizers to current Web-based sessions and applications using real-time interaction (Peters 2002).
Efforts to strengthen and expand workforce skills have historically been addressed by Cooperative Extension in several ways. For example, a specific need, such as technology training, has been incorporated into various program areas (Elbert and Alston 2005). Another approach has been to target a particular workforce area, such as child-care, food service safety, or production agriculture, and to provide knowledge and skills training (Durden et al. 2013). Often these workforce areas look to the Extension as a way to gain or maintain standards necessary for certification in their field. Still another avenue has been to focus on a segment of the population, such as youth, and provide career opportunities (Rockwell, Stohler, and Rudman 1984) or to work with low-resource families and identify needed support and services (Bowman, Manoogian, and Driscoll 2002). For example, many Extension staff work with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that helps people lead healthier lives by understanding the fundamentals of good nutrition, how to make food dollars stretch further, and how to be physically active to maintain health and well-being. These three aspects are fundamental to develop a healthy and productive workforce. Additionally, in the early 1990s the Extension model was used in the development of the national Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, a tool for providing small rural manufacturers the same access to academic innovations and resulting knowledge as the traditional Extension program had done with agriculture (Maher and Spencer 1997).
What Difference is Cooperative Extension Making?
There a number of ways Extension is making a difference in this arena. Some examples include: Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) are a trusted source of economic and community development data, decision tools, education, and guidance for our nation’s rural communities. Collectively, the Centers form a one-stop-shop connection to the nationwide network of Land-grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System. Each Center serves a U.S. region and taps its Land-grant University network to form innovative research and Extension partnerships in the area of rural development. Together, the Regional Rural Development Centers help rural communities make science-based decisions about their community and economic development investments. The Centers currently focus on strengthening rural economies, promoting quality of life, supporting a rural workforce, harnessing technological innovation, and promoting e-connectivity for rural America.
Extension’s Pesticide Safety and Certifications is a successful collaboration of Extension with pesticide producers, the EPA and the Extension Foundation to deliver commercial and noncommercial applicators training and certification to safely apply pesticides. EPA supports Land-grant University Pesticide Safety Education Programs (PSEPs) for the education and training of certified pesticide applicators. PSEPs provide pesticide applicator training on the safe use of restricted use pesticides by applicators in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings.
Other examples include Youth Programs: INWork – INnovate, INvest, INspire – Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce program and Adult Programs: At Your Service: Working with Multicultural Customers
What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?
The sheer scale of economic and work force development challenges requires scalable programs that can be used across diverse locales and cultures, to speed economic recovery; kickstart new businesses; leverage new and emerging technologies; and retool the workforce to meet the skills needs of new industries. The Cooperative Extension System is well positioned to build upon existing and new partnerships to build inclusive, resilient, sustainable communities and economies. Instrumental in this process are local offices of Cooperative Extension embracing the role of fostering space for entrepreneurship, small business development, and other economic and workforce development opportunities in ways that no other national agency or organization is prepared to do. With additional resources and new partnerships, Cooperative Extension can lead efforts in connecting key community support organizations to truly take advantage of the education, resources, and opportunities within each community. Through its mission, Cooperative Extension is equipped to deliver a 360-degree approach that would allow for inclusion of education for youth and families to assist in creating economically viable and sustainable communities.