WASHINGTON - Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced this week the start of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jobs program that will use the national apprenticeship system to hire new employees as agricultural commodity graders, a key role in USDA's mission to protect American consumers. The new program will also serve as a way to increase jobs for U.S. veterans.
The program, piloted by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is a registered national apprenticeship program that combines on-the-job training with theoretical and practical instruction in the classroom and online. Apprentices who complete the paid training program will meet the qualifications for a position as a USDA Agricultural Commodities Grader.
Although the program is open to anyone interested in a career in agriculture, Secretary Vilsack said he is proud the program offers veterans a path to success and hopes many will take advantage of the opportunity.
"USDA is committed to supporting America's Veterans," said Secretary Vilsack. "Our new apprenticeship program will give them a chance to join a talented pool of USDA professionals and leaders who ensure America's food maintains its quality and safety. If they are passionate about a career in agriculture, we want to help them achieve it."
The new apprenticeship program is a collaboration between USDA, the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). DOL approved the curriculum and registered it as an official source for job training and VA approved the use of Veterans Benefits, which may include a monthly housing allowance and an additional stipend for books and supplies, for eligible apprentices. Many can also apply for separate benefits through the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.
AMS's Specialty Crops Program will hire apprentices who will receive 12 months of blended technical training on specialty crops inspection, grading and certification, and developmental training on professional skills, such as interpersonal communications and leadership.
"Veterans, by their very nature, are always looking for opportunities to serve. This innovative apprenticeship program allows more of our nation's veterans to continue their service out of uniform in the important mission of USDA," VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said.
Apprentices who complete the program will have achieved critical career milestones -- a nationally recognized DOL Apprentice Accreditation and skills and competencies for professional success.
At USDA, the new apprenticeship program will also serve as the pilot for a new online interactive learning management system, which AMS will use to standardize training for all Specialty Crops Inspection employees. The learning management system will also deliver online training components and share real-time data with DOL and VA.
USDA employs more than 11,000 veterans and since 2009 has provided more than $505 million in direct farm loans to help 7,416 veterans start, maintain or grow their farming operations.
More information about the new apprenticeship program and other opportunities is available at www.ams.usda.gov/careers.