Online Education Empowers Employees to Succeed

Edgar Velez_Costa Farms
Edgar Velez shared his successful experience with online education, which led to his promotion to Grower of Vegetative Propagation, with employees at Costa Farms.

Edgar Velez is an intelligent, hard-working, motivated Costa Farms employee who started out as a truck driver for the company and quickly worked his way up to being a supervisor in propagation. When Velez’s manager offered him the opportunity to take online certificate courses through the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension (UF/IFAS) at the company’s expense, he jumped at the chance to build upon his skills. Thanks to the program, Costa has now promoted him to Grower of Vegetative Propagation.

Costa Farms recognized 40 employees, including Velez, who completed the program this year with a special graduation ceremony. Graduates and staff members from Costa’s locations around the world, some as far as the Dominican Republic, Skyped in for the ceremony, which Costa conducted in English and Spanish. Velez shared his story, and graduates heard from UF/IFAS professors and Costa executives. Afterward, the graduates enjoyed a well-earned lunch.

“The classes helped me to better understand pH, EC, fertility, environmental controls within a greenhouse, and how to increase the profitability in my own department,” said Velez in his speech. “I am now empowered to more thoroughly train new employees in the propagation department.”

Elizabeth Gomez, Learning and Organization Development Sr. Consultant at Costa Farms, says Edgar’s story, of someone who has been growing within the company and through taking the courses received a promotion, speaks to the program and its quality.

Invest in Employees You Already Have

UF/IFAS started offering online certificate courses three years ago to help greenhouse workers make better crop management decisions. This year it added a Costing and Profitability class to its core curriculum that teaches managers how to accurately estimate production costs and profits. The class included videos and lectures in English and Spanish. UF/IFAS Professors Paul Fisher, Alan Hodges, Kevin Athearn, and Rosanna Freyre, Charlie Hall from Texas A&M University, and Bill Swanekamp of Kube-Pak Corp, shared insights on how to interpret income statement data, allocate overhead costs, and calculate crop enterprise budgets.

Paul Fisher, Professor and Extension Specialist at UF/IFAS, says the course is a much-needed addition because it can be challenging to estimate costs and profitability for seasonal-based businesses that earn the bulk of their profits during the spring season. This year, 58 people enrolled in the course and over 80% of them completed it. Participants said they enjoyed the easy-to-navigate modules, the adaptable spreadsheets, and the well-crafted content.

“I liked that the course taught fairly advanced accounting concepts from a grower’s point of view. I have attempted to learn some of this stuff in the past via reading and working with accounting types, but the material never hit home,” said one participant. “This course was well-crafted by growers for growers. As a result, I now have a basic understanding of many principles that I previously did not fully understand. I am looking forward to applying these concepts to the way I production plan and run daily ops.”

In a competitive industry with a limited pool of people who have two- and four-year degrees, Fisher says companies need to look within to find dedicated individuals who have already proven to be good employees and then take advantage of online opportunities such as the UF/IFAS program that can empower these people to succeed at their place of employment.

In addition to the five courses offered in 2017, UF/IFAS will add Introduction to Hydroponics and Water Quality and Treatment courses this year, and it will bring back the Disease Management course for 2018. Along with that, UF/IFAS hopes to coordinate its online educational efforts with Michigan State University and grower organizations in the future, as well as expand the program internationally. The courses run June through December. To learn more about the UF/IFAS online certificate program, visit http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/training.

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