Farmers have many skills that they can use to supplement or even replace their on-farm income. The Wisconsin Farm Center can assist them in determining how to use these skills and sell themselves to employers, receive up-to-date training in a wide range of areas, and provide information about starting a small business.
The Farm Center can help farmers look into their off-farm career options, or examine the potential of a small business venture. In addition, the staff can help farmers or farm family members find opportunities to update their employment skills, or assist them to locate employers that offer on-the-job training.
The first step in career exploration is to take stock of what you already have and know about yourself. It's important that farmers create an inventory their skills and abilities. They can complete the skills inventory form in the Job Hunting Workbook or the skills and interest inventories available at the career centers of the Wisconsin Technical College System, University of Wisconsin campuses, Job Centers and local libraries. Listing your personal attributes, where your interests lie, and what makes you happy on the job also provide a framework from which you can make decisions.
By using these tools and personal assessments, a farmer can get a general direction for new careers or occupational areas he or she may wish to pursue. You can gather additional career information by talking with people who work in the occupation you're interested in.
Many times a change in careers or occupations will require the updating of skills. In today's rapidly changing workplace, technology creates a challenge for staying up-to-date with skills. Local technical colleges are resources for upgrading specific, technical skills in a short period of time. Most technical colleges also provide "how to study" courses for returning students to refresh their study skills, while many colleges offer night and weekend classes for busy adults.
You may also be able to get financial assistance toward the cost of classes. There are federal financial aid programs, and information on scholarship programs is available at the financial aid offices of schools. In addition, some farmers changing careers may be eligible for the Future Fields program which offers tuition assistance.
Perhaps returning to school isn't for you, but there is still an opportunity to learn new skills on the job. You may be able to work with an employer who will agree to train you. The employer can enter into a contractual agreement between you and the area Workforce Development board in which the employer agrees to train you for a position in the company and pay you the wages and benefits that any other starting employee would receive. The employer would then be reimbursed for up to 50% of the training costs during the agreed upon training period.
Farmers, because they already have experience managing their own enterprises, make excellent candidates for starting new entrepreneurial endeavors. A small business (such as a repair shop, day care or pick-your-own operation) might develop on the farm, while other farmers have started enterprises off the farm.
No matter which route a farmer chooses, he or she needs to explore the feasibility of that business and put together a business plan. The feasibility plan researches the probability that there is a need for the product or service and that the business owners can make an adequate income providing that product or service. The business plan provides the road map for the business and is the primary document financial institutions will look at when examining loan options.
Local University of Wisconsin-Extension community resource agents, small business development centers, some Job Center sites and other agencies can assist people with small business development and management. The Farm Center staff can also help farmers to locate resources in their area to assist them further develop their small business ideas.
Here are some links that can provide information on these topics:
A searchable Wisconsin database containing current job opportunities that employers have listed with Wisconsin Job Service.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
Provides job services, training and employment assistance to people looking for work, and it also works with employers to find workers to fill current job openings.
Wisconsin Department of Commerce
Works for the creation and retention of jobs and business opportunities in Wisconsin.
Small Business Development Centers
Funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, works with local colleges and other agencies to serve as a business development resource.
Offers a wide range of services for people who want to start a small business or to assist them in running an operation that's already underway.