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Ag industry vies for young talent

TAGS: Education
Tom J. Bechman Samantha Otten
SPREAD THE MESSAGE: Samantha Otten, retail sales development specialist for Bane-Welker Equipment, uses a proactive strategy to let high school and college ag students know there are career opportunities in the ag equipment industry.
Bane-Welker’s Samantha Otten informs students about careers in the ag machinery field.

Who will work on your diesel tractors, combines and sprayers five years from now? Who will understand technology well enough to pair you up with the right equipment when you’re ready to upgrade? One regional equipment company is taking a proactive approach to cultivate homegrown talent to fill these roles.

“We’re always looking for quality young people interested in agriculture and the equipment industry,” says Samantha Otten, retail sales development specialist for Bane-Welker Equipment, based in Crawfordsville, Ind. Bane-Welker owns 13 Case IH dealerships — 10 in Indiana and three in Ohio. The company also sells complementary brands, including J&M, Kinze and Kubota.

The best way to understand what Otten does is to look at her most recent endeavor. “I contacted ag teachers and offered to visit schools, explaining career possibilities within the ag equipment industry, in general, and our company, in particular,” she says. “We know many students in ag classes have an interest in farming and equipment, and it’s a great place to explain career possibilities.”

COVID-19 made this more challenging, but it didn’t derail her effort. “If I can’t visit high schools in person now, we do it virtually,” she says. “Our target audience is juniors and seniors, but I will talk to any group of kids who are interested.”

So far, Otten has reached 20 schools — 10 in person and 10 virtually — since she began her efforts last fall.

“We offer sponsorships for high school students interested in pursuing postsecondary training in diesel mechanics,” she explains. The company will cover $2,000 of tuition at a school of the student’s choice, plus pay for $5,000 in tools. If the student eventually works for Bane-Welker for at least three years, they keep the tools. If not, the student reimburses the company for the tools.

Sales efforts

Otten also looks for college juniors and seniors at schools such as Purdue University, Ivy Tech and Ohio State University. “We offer internships geared toward sales and marketing students,” she says. Summer interns are split among territories within the company, with each intern gaining experience in three dealerships during the summer.

Otten knows about the internship program firsthand, although she took a circuitous path to end up in her current position.

“I utilized the Pathway program, which exists between Ivy Tech and Purdue, primarily because I wanted to come out of college debt-free,” she explains. “Once I had an associate degree at Ivy Tech, I moved to Purdue in sales and marketing within ag economics. I graduated midyear at the end of 2019, debt-free.”

Otten’s first internship was with Bane-Welker. That’s when her story takes an unexpected turn. “I did two internships after that for John Deere corporate, spending one summer at Moline, Ill., and one at a John Deere training facility near Columbus, Ohio. Most people are surprised when they learn that I crossed the color barrier!”

So why did she cross back? It wasn’t about the color, she says. It was about the opportunity to be with a smaller company rather than being part of a larger, corporate structure. “For me, I just really like the culture here,” she says. “Bane-Welker shares my values of family and community.”

Who better to recruit young people for agriculture than someone who went through the process? If Otten hasn’t been to a school near you, in person or virtually, expect to see or hear her soon.

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