Staying true to its land grant roots, three MSU units have partnered with Corporation for Skilled Workforce and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to contribute to the Michigan Agriculture and Food System Workforce Advancement Initiative, a program supported by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Over the next four years, the Corporation for Skilled Workforce and Michigan Food and Farming Systems will partner with MSU’s Migrant Student Services, Center for Regional Food Systems, and Institute for Agricultural Technology to help develop agriculture technology education and career pathways for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in an effort to bolster the food and agriculture industry in Michigan.
The three MSU-affiliated partners plan to help migrant and seasonal farmworkers be engaged in the design, delivery, and evaluation of career pathway and training programs. By participating in experiential learning and mentoring opportunities, completing relevant and stackable courses, obtaining college credit, and industry recognized credential(s), farmworkers will participate and give feedback about their experience, keeping them at the forefront of the program.
Migrant Student Services
Supporting migrant and seasonal farmworkers is Migrant Student Services’ core mission, and the program’s expansive services—the College Assistance Migrant Program, Identification and Recruitment Center, and High School Equivalency Program—lend unique insight into the barriers facing students from migrant and seasonal farmworker communities. This breadth of knowledge will help the initiative recruit, retain, and support farmworkers in Michigan.
“As seasonal farmworkers, many educational barriers that exist revolve around moving through different regions in the country in order to follow the crops,” said Dr. Ingrid Aguayo-Fuentealba, Associate Director of the High School Equivalency Program. “During these moves, student records can get lost, resulting in them being held back a grade, and children often fall behind due to mismatched curriculum. It’s also common for students to leave school in order to financially support their family.”
The High School Equivalency Program helps students overcome these barriers by preparing them to complete the GED and making educational certifications and apprenticeships more attainable. As a partner with the Michigan Agriculture and Food System Workforce Advancement Initiative, Migrant Student Services will expand these services to aid farmworkers in developing skills needed for the agricultural industry through certificates, licenses, and degrees. HEP students bring a set of skills and knowledge from their agricultural work gained in their native language; Aguayo-Fuentealba is optimistic that the initiative will be able to integrate some of this knowledge and even as it bolsters the students’ skill sets.
According to Aguayo-Fuentealba, the main barrier for many migrant workers is not knowing there is access to the sort of opportunities Migrant Student Services and the HEP program offer. Properly mobilizing more bilingual and bicultural staff who can help people navigate unknown systems and processes is likely to increase community engagement, and the grant may well make the necessary outreach a reality.
Center for Regional Food Systems
MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems, a program structured around increasing healthy food access and economic development in communities across Michigan, will also work with the initiative. After completing a workforce assessment in 2019 about local and regional food systems in Michigan with the Corporation for Skilled Workforce, MSU Extension and others, the Center identified ways in which the agriculture industry could be developed to increase equity and develop career pathways.
“We are very interested in supporting the workforce and employers in Michigan to help develop highly skilled employees with equitable opportunities in the state,” said Dr. Judith Barry, Associate Director of the Center for Regional Food Systems. “Accessibility to education that migrant workers struggle with is a major obstacle, so we’re trying to seek solutions.”
In an effort to alleviate language barriers, Migrant Student Services, the Center for Regional Food Systems, and the Institute for Agricultural Technology will collaborate with community colleges throughout 10 counties in Michigan to develop existing agriculture technology programs by accommodating language barriers.
Institute for Agriculture Technology
In addition to developing community college curriculum, the Institute for Agricultural Technology will guide students who obtain a GED to one of 14 certificate programs offered by the Institute. Each two-year program offers intensive, practical learning and skill enhancement in animal sciences, plant science and electrical technology in over 12 different locations in Michigan.
The Institute of Agricultural Technology will also offer tutoring support for Spanish-speaking students—whose courses are taught primarily in English—to help them find success in their program.
“We want to see the students succeed. We recognize that not all students have the bandwidth to utilize their financial resources for the applications for the certificate program, so we’re looking to provide a waiver so students can apply and not have to pay,” said Dr. Dorcia Chaison, Interim Director of the Institute of Agricultural Technology. “It’s important for us to also communicate the program information in both Spanish and English. Lastly, I want students to know they can contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
By taking a multi-pronged approach to a complex issue, the three MSU partners will steadfastly achieve their goals—migrant and seasonal farm workers will have more options for growing their career opportunities, businesses will have a better trained workforce, and farmworkers will have equitable access to education— with each goal in alignment with Michigan’s Sixty by 30 goal to increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate to 60% by 2030.
For more information about the Michigan Agriculture and Food System Workforce Advancement Initiative, contact Hector Arroyo Jr., State Administrative Manager, at ArroyoH@michigan.gov.To learn more about employment services and resources available to Michigan's agricultural workers and employers, visit Michigan.gov/AFLS