Enrollment in conventional agricultural and landscape programs has declined over the last decade. This fact has educators scrambling for new ways to attract more students. While the pandemic evoked a brief spike as a renewed interest in the green sciences grew, it wasn’t enough. New codes and standards in place today will require even more professionals with the knowledge and passion required to support the irrigation industry.
Will university programs be able to shift with this trend? Or will it be up to local colleges and on-the-job training programs to generate enough professionals to fill the needs of our industry?
Though fewer undergrads are pursuing a traditional path to the irrigation industry, the view isn’t entirely bleak. The number of degrees conferred to students in related fields continues to increase. These include agriculture, architecture, natural resources conservation, and parks and recreation.
For students seeking an education in these fields, the Irrigation Foundation provides an online directory to help them research scholastic opportunities. Four-year universities and community colleges alike are working to increase investment in irrigation-related education opportunities.
Organizations that promote on-the-job training and certifications outside the traditional educational system also continue to attract new talent. The pandemic has allowed many of these programs to transition quickly to online learning. As a result, they are reaching students who are unable to attend trade shows or events due to travel or budget restrictions.
In addition, the Irrigation Association shifted its entire Education Week in 2020 to an online format. The organization plans to continue offering a hybrid environment to reach new students in 2021.
Private companies like Hunter Industries also pivoted to make education more accessible. We dedicated new resources to Hunter University, a free online learning platform with self-paced classes, engaging webinars, and product knowledge certifications. Training is now available for all skill levels, and interest continues to increase.
The adage about the horse is true: We’ve led our students here and they’re ready to drink! But what do we do if there’s no water?
Interest in fields that impact water resources, including city planning, architecture, natural resources, and landscape architecture, should include advocacy as a part of their programs. Understanding water rights, legislative impacts, socioeconomic issues, and increasingly harsh weather events related to climate change will be challenges that future professionals have to meet head-on. To ensure the industry has a bright green future, it all starts with a solid foundation of learning.