15:02 PM Thursday, February 22, 2018
Modernize Agriculture Schools For Modern Farming
Germany's vocational apprentice system provides a time tested model; train war vets for farm management?
image/svg+xml Kyiv Lutsk Rivne Zhytomyr Lviv Ternopil Khmelnytskyi Uzhgorod Chernivtsi Vinnytsia Chernigiv Sumy Kharkiv Poltava Cherkasy Kirovohrad Lugansk Dnipropetrovsk Donetsk Zaporizhzhia Mykolaiv Odesa Kherson Simferopol Sevastopol Ivano- Frankivsk

by Tom O'Callaghan

KYIV -- A “Marshall Plan" to aid Ukraine’s recovery has been discussed extensively in recent weeks. The original Marshall Plan, , was signed into law by the US government in 1948 to aid the economic recovery of post WWII Western Europe.

But, four years earlier, in June 1944, the US Government started a domestic program that had equally far reaching consequences. Entitled the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the program came to be known as the “GI Bill.” It provided returning war veterans with access to low interest loans and a college education.

It resulted in an exponential increase in college education in post war America. In fact, the GI Bill provided the education for 14 Nobel Prize winners, three US Supreme Court justices, and three US presidents. The opportunity exists to replicate American success in rural Ukraine with its own war veterans.

Rivers of tomatoes flowed last July through processors at Organic Systems farm in Mykolaiv. (UNIAN/Vladislav Musienko)

Ukrainian agricultural productivity per person is low when compared with the rest of Europe. It is time for a new generation of leadership to emerge, for new educated men and women enter the agricultural sector to increase productivity and efficiency.

Ukraine ranks in the top 15% globally for post-high school, or 3rd Level Education Enrollment. Ukraine has 18 agriculture universities and over 100 agriculture technical colleges. These educational institutes currently have 180,000 students and produce 47,000 graduates annually.

To put this figure into perspective, Canada has 46 million hectares of arable land. There, as a rule of thumb, one specialist exists per 1,000 hectares, or a total of 46,000 specialists. By this measure, Ukraine with 33 million hectares arable area graduates more than enough qualified specialists to staff its farming area.

Yet, a 2015 OECD study in Ukraine found that 68% of agribusiness executives feel that graduates lack practical skills. Over half felt that the local education institutions were not producing graduates with up-to-date know how and skills needed by employers.

The latest edition of the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranks Ukraine in the bottom 10% globally for capacity to retain talent – 129th place out of 137 countries.

Ukraine has too many agricultural schools producing too many graduates who are not ready for 21st century agriculture.

Ukrainian agriculture responds to this challenge by becoming more capital intensive, more technical, and relying more on the use of complex technology and machinery. Last year, agricultural machinery imports doubled, from $646 million in 2015 to $1.252 million in 2016. Effective use and maintenance, and of this equipment requires a skilled, well-paid workforce.

With such a large agricultural sector, Ukraine has to refocus its higher education philosophy from mass based training to vocational training. Presently, agriholdings, equipment companies, NGO’s and government officials are debating creating a new Center of Excellence for Agri-Mechanisation education.

This initiative is inspired by Germany’s vocational, or dual training apprenticeship system. German companies hire and train employees to suit their needs. Apprenticeships typically last between 2 to 3.5 years.

A combine harvests wheat in Mykolaiv region last July (UNIAN)

Key benefits would be:

  • Help farmers hire high paid technicians to deliver engineering and operational services to farms. Enhance servicing and manufacture of agriculture machinery to increase productivity, efficiency and add value to the entire economy.
  • Help returning veterans find well paid work. For example John Deere in Mannheim, Germany recently received 3,100 applications for 60 apprenticeship positions, or 52 applicants for every applicant.
  • Vocational training based on the German apprenticeship system can be expanded to meet the needs of industry. In Germany, there are 330 different apprenticeship programs. One in five companies -- or 431,000 companies -- hire apprentices. As a result, Germany has a very low level of youth unemployment -- 6.7%, which is well below the EU-28 average of 17.3%.

The Center of Excellence initiative aims to provide an educational foundation to create new careers and fulfilling job opportunities. It will help inject new leadership into rural Ukraine. This will improve social cohesion, accelerate innovation, and enhance investment in Ukrainian agriculture, light-engineering sector and other similar businesses.

Regardless the capital and new technologies invested in Ukrainian agriculture, real growth will depend on human capital.

Who better to help grow the potential of Ukrainian land, than the very same men and women who have sacrifaced so much to defend and secure it!

Tom O'Callaghan is CEO & Partner of Black Earth Innovation.

He is based in Kiev, and can be contacted at

Posted Nov. 21, 2017

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