Students excel during career success tours

300+ careers in agriculture.

We’ve heard it before; it’s been pounded into our brains for years. We’ve woven it into our classroom instruction and have asked our ag students and FFA members to regurgitate the info back to us in the form of reports, PowerPoints, and speeches. But let’s face it: They are just words on paper if we don’t SHOW what a career in agriculture looks like.

Have you ever thought about a career success tour?

Before a litany of excuses rushes to mind (costs too much money, not enough time to plan, my administration won’t approve), hear us out: Career success tours of agricultural-based companies are great ways to show students the broad world of what agriculture has become.

“Career success tours expose students to a variety of careers that they may not have thought of before,” said Melissa Higdon, the manager of the career success tour program during the National FFA Convention & Expo. Students get to see a broader application of agriculture beyond what they find at home. So often students forget about all the process and service industries that stem from production agriculture, from landscapers and lawn mowers to licensed horticulturalist. “The tours help students open their eyes to the different careers that are out there. It widens their tunnel vision,” says Higdon.

Make no mistake: A career success tour is not your typical tour that just gives a basic overview of what a company does. Career success tours, ideal for smaller groups, offer a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a company.

Of course keeping the tours educational is key. An easy way to categorize the tours is to group them under the Eight Career Pathways that help our members focus on an area of interest and increase their expertise. The eight paths are Animal Systems; Agribusiness Systems; Food Products and Processing Systems; Natural Resource Systems; Environmental Service Systems; Power, Structural and Technical Systems; Plant Systems; and Biotechnology Systems.

During the National FFA Convention & Expo, FFA offers more than 25 career success tours that touch at least one of these pathways.

Whatever you do, make sure you think outside the box. Just because it’s not a typical agricultural company doesn’t mean it can’t be pertinent to your students. Below are some ideas on how to find career success tours at home.

How to find career success tours

  1. Check with your state department of agriculture. “Right now, agritourism is really big so some of those companies make natural fits in a career success tour,” Higdon said.
  2. Surf the web. For example, type in beef production and see what comes back. Then call.
  3. Talk to your local alumni affiliate, state foundation or other FFA supporters. They may have a contact that gets your foot in the door.
  4. Just ask. Most companies are happy to help. When you ask, make sure you keep the tours educationally focused and request behind-the-scenes, in-depth, hands-on tour. Some companies may already have a custom tour. Other companies may need to tailor-make a tour to fit your needs.
  5. “I always encourage tour sites to introduce the students to employees who can talk about what education and experience they needed for their current job: Did you go to an ag school or university? What did you study? How did you use your degree to get where you are now? Did you attend a trade school? Not all students will go to a four-year college. They may go to a two-year tech school or start working right after high school,” Higdon said.
  6. Think big...and small. Don’t discount the smaller companies. “A tour can come from a company as small as a chocolate shop that employs less than 25 people. During the convention and expo, we have a career success tour at Best Chocolate. The owner talks about the entrepreneurship side of her career and how to start and grow a business. At the same time, she also talks about how to make chocolate,” said Higdon.
  7. Ask your students. A lot of the convention and expo career success tour ideas come from students who have seen a company while in Indianapolis.
  8. Don’t forget your local university or trade school. Check with the department of ag or other ag-related offices to see what they offer. A college may have a farm or research center that will allow students to review a lesson taught at a college level.
  9. Think outside the box. The best tour may be something not as closely related to ag as you’d think. Talk to a candle maker, see how a sheep shearer turns a profit or meet with a farmer who uses non-tillable land as entertainment for a paint ball business.
  10. Ask your local farm bureau for ideas.

Keep in mind that there may be costs involved. But don’t let that stop you. There are resources out there you just have to look and apply for them.

The Target Field Trip Grants program provides funds for K-12 field trips in order to give students throughout the country the opportunity to explore more of the world outside the classroom. More than 5,000 grants of up to $700 each will be awarded to educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, and classified staff who are employed by accredited K-12 public, private, or charter schools only. Types of eligible trips include art, science, and cultural museum visits; community service and civic projects; career enrichment opportunities; and other events or activities away from the school facility. Funds may be used from January 2013 until the end of the school year to cover trip-related costs such as transportation, ticket fees, food, resource materials, and supplies. Online applications must be submitted by Oct. 1, 2012. Visit the Target website to learn more about the program.

And don’t forget to use technology. If it’s not possible to take the students on the tour, bring the tour to them. With free video conferencing software such as Skype, Oovoo, Facetime, and many others, it’s possible to take a career success tour without ever leaving the classroom. All you have to do is find a willing company and employee/owner to “carry” you through the business. It’s also possible to create a mini-documentary for your class to view prior to an online interview. The possibilities are truly endless!