Taking students beyond their classroom’s walls and helping them explore leading agricultural businesses across the country is the goal of the Ag Explorer Virtual Field Trips. With one in three people working in agriculture worldwide, according to FAO.org, the goal is to help agriculture education students discover potential careers before they graduate from high school.
The first virtual field trip took place at animal health company, Zoetis, in November 2017. Since then, businesses hosting a virtual field trip have included John Deere, Syngenta and most recently, Tractor Supply Company. Through the events, students from across the U.S. are given the opportunity to ask questions of the businesses and learn more about potential careers in that industry. Teachers are also able to download classroom resources that help connect the tours back to their curriculum.
“With job openings expanding rapidly every year in agriculture, there is no better time than now to start sparking student interest in the field,” National FFA CEO Mark Poeschel said during an introduction for John Deere’s tour earlier this year.
Each field trip walks students through the business, introducing them to different careers available in that industry and providing them with insight on skills necessary to be successful in those careers.
In the recent Tractor Supply Company field trip, students were introduced to potential TSC careers by following how TSC would develop a new dog food from concept to store shelves.
Students first visited product development, learning that a product starts by identifying a gap in what the store sells and what the consumer is seeking.
“Once we have identified what the product gaps are, we start to develop the actual product. Then we can see live samples and are able to act from there,” said Nicole Logan, vice president and divisional merchandise manager. She said they spend a lot of time looking at statistics and analyzing data on the product and that it is important to be willing to take risks when designing a new product.
“When it comes to skills you really need to be successful, great communication is one. (You also need to be) highly organized, creative and not afraid to take risks. Failure is part of what we all do and our perspective at Tractor Supply is that if you are not failing, you are not taking enough risks,” Logan said.
After product development, students got a glimpse at the marketing that takes place to get the new product on the shelf.
“When a new product is created, one of the first ways that marketing gets involved is they will create the packaging and the brand for that product. What is the name going to be? What is its tone of voice going to be? What does the bag look like and how does it compare to other brands? It is a big collaborative process between the creative department in marketing, leadership and the merchants and product development,” said Neely Green, national marketing manager.
After the brand is created, the marketing team develops a plan for launching the product, including what the store signage will look like and allowing employees to use the product so they have firsthand knowledge to share with customers.
Green said marketing is changing so quickly that being successful means being able to adapt to new trends and types of marketing.
Once the product is created, it joins the line of all TSC products, traveling through distribution centers to get to the store shelves. The distribution center works to fill orders accurately and efficiently so products are available when customers are looking for them.
Abrah Meyer, past national FFA officer and host of the virtual field trips, said her experiences in FFA have helped her to develop many of the skills discussed during the tours.
“I know that through my internships and as I am getting near graduation, I can use those skills that I have learned in FFA and apply them to any job I go into, whether that is communicating or teamwork or even having that spirit of service,” Meyer said.
The response from teachers using the virtual field trips in their classrooms has been positive as more pressure is placed on secondary educators to help students discover their future career paths. Oftentimes, these teachers are working with fewer resources to accomplish this goal, and the free resources that accompany these tours aid teachers in developing their lessons around the virtual field trips.
In addition to these trips, Ag Explorer, a collaborative between Discovery Education and the National FFA Organization, provides other resources that students can use to discover agriculture careers, including an interactive Career Finder tool.