IT was only three years ago that Western Australian John Deere dealership group AFGRI Equipment embarked on a ground-breaking plan to solve the service technician labour shortage in the farm mechanisation industry.
It instigated the AFGRI Apprentice Academy, with the goal of inducting 25 new apprentices into the company each year to set up a self-sustaining labour force, with wide options for staff to choose a career of their choice within the company.
The specialist training program saw AFGRI liaise with Central Regional TAFE Moora to formally train academy inductees in a Certificate III in agriculture which also involved four units specific to John Deere equipment.
The plan has been an unqualified success and recently AFGRI held its third wave induction day, where 25 new apprentice technicians and four part-trainees were inducted into the academy.
The apprentice technicians will complete 36 units over a four year course, with three yearly blocks at Moora, while also being enrolled in John Deere University online training and hands-on training at the AFGRI branch where they are employed.
The part-trainees will be involved in a Certificate III course in automotive sales and fast-tracked through all aspects of the company's business.
On graduation they will have a choice to join a department of their choice, such as parts, sales or administration.
According to AFGRI Equipment group after-market manager Ken Paolini, the apprentice technicians also will have choices for career paths, including engaging in further studies to become a master technician, in a speciality field, such as precision ag.
"We have a team of four technical advisers engaged in the training program in concert with Moora TAFE teachers," Mr Paolini said.
"At the end of their training, the academy inductees are fully qualified in all aspects of John Deere machinery which strengthens our branches' ability to provide quality service to our customers."
Mr Paolini said the relationship with Moora TAFE had grown stronger over the past three years.
"It's a great partnership and is working really well," he said.
"Our goal is to have a rolling total of 100 technicians in our branches so the message is very clear that we are here to invest in the industry and in country towns.
"We are saying to young people, you can stay in your town and still enjoy a professional career."
For AFGRI Equipment precision ag manager Uys Lourens, there also are opportunities for customers to utilise digital data captured during the crop production cycle by accessing the John Deere Operations Center.
"This year we have held training courses at our Perth head office for customers," he said.
"These courses are supplementary to those held at our branches and we can organise training sessions to suit customers which are designed to be interactive.
"So they can bring along their own laptop and learn how to utilise specific tools in the John Deere Operations Center and the associated mobile apps, to assist them with their farming enterprise.
"These courses can be at entry level or advanced and they can experience the live link to the ops centre.
"For example, if they access the MyOperations app, they can set up their smart phone to be their farm in their pocket, with the ability to access data from any John Deere machine on their farm."
Dr Lourens also stressed the strict data privacy provisions within the John Deere network.
"The customer has absolute control over all his or her data," he said.
"They can decide who they choose to access data and what level of access is allowed.
"This is applicable to both third parties, for example their agronomist or their local John Deere dealer."