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Making the Grader - USDA's New Program Offers Veterans a Path into Agriculture

Posted by Lanon Baccam, Deputy Under Secretary and USDA Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison in Initiatives
Oct 03, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with military veterans
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, greets military veterans James Youngblood, Staff Sergeant, United States Army, Cari Bains, Staff Sergeant, United States Army, Charles Horton Sr., Master Sergeant, United States Air Force, Jeffrery Dezort, Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Paul Derdzinski, Staff Sergeant, United States Army and Anthony Williams, Sergeant First Class, United States Army comprising the inaugural cohort of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Commodity Grader Apprenticeship Program at the USDA in Washington, DC on Mon., Oct. 3, 2016. The program is a Department of Labor (DOL) Registered Apprenticeship providing technical training and professional development to prepare employees to serve American agriculture. After successfully completing the 12-month pilot program, the apprentices will have a nationally recognized Department of Labor Apprentice Accreditation and the skills and training for professional success. USDA Photo by Ken Melton.

Over the last eight years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of veterans turning to agriculture for their post-service career. While many choose farming and ranching, others seek employment in the agriculture industry as well as federal service. USDA employs more than 11,000 veterans, and we’re looking to increase that number through a new apprenticeship program.

The program, which is being launched this week by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in partnership with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is a registered national apprenticeship that will grow a pool of talent for USDA. Although it is open to anyone interested in a career in agriculture, we are especially proud that it offers America’s veterans one more way to join our ranks.

Apprentices in the program will receive 12 months of specialized training to become agricultural commodity graders (ACGs). ACGs are mission-critical positions for USDA. They are the highly trained USDA team members across the country who perform quality grading and inspections of the foods and agricultural products that we purchase every day.

Outside of the direct benefit to consumers, these apprentices and the other ACGs around the country help facilitate domestic and global commerce and are a vital part of USDA’s commitment to ensuring that the quality and wholesomeness of products meets buyers’ expectations.

James Youngblood with Cari Bains and Lanon Baccam, Deputy Under Secretary
New apprentice, James Youngblood (center), of Omaha, Neb., is a retired Army staff sergeant who served for 23 years and saw duty in Iraq, Kuwait and Kosovo. The former food service inspector said this program will help him strengthen his knowledge of commodities and bridge the gap from his military inspection knowledge to USDA specifications. Youngblood said he expects this program to have a significant impact on all agricultural commodity graders hired by USDA. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

USDA worked hand-in-hand with the DOL to develop a comprehensive curriculum that will help build the next generation of USDA technical professionals and leaders. We also worked closely with VA to ensure that veterans in the program who were eligible were able to access their hard-earned benefits. Thoughtful and dedicated work by many employees in these three agencies shows our commitment to veterans at the USDA and federal level.

We are committed to providing opportunities for American veterans, and this new program is another way for USDA to serve those who served our nation. Our new apprenticeship program will help them find opportunities in federal service. Our strong relationship with Hiring Our Heroes opens the agriculture industry and the thousands of high-skilled jobs to our veterans and we will continue to reach out to those who are interested in farming and ranching.

Since 2009, our programs at USDA have provided more than $505 million in direct farm loans to help 7,416 veterans start, maintain or grow their farming operations.

Learn more about the new apprenticeship program and other opportunities available at AMS.

Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Elanor Starmer and others
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Elanor Starmer, Department of Labor (DOL) Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training Mike Michaud, DOL Office of Apprenticeship and Training Administrator John V. Ladd, and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity Curtis L. Coy take turns signing a Standards of Apprenticeship certificate. Administrator Starmer hosted the ceremonial signing at USDA on Aug. 30, 2016 that celebrated the completion of a Memorandum of Understanding initiating the Agricultural Commodity Grader Apprenticeship. (USDA Photo by Ken Melton, AMS Public Affairs)
Category/Topic: Initiatives