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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published January 03 2011

Extension program seeks to train agents

With an anticipated wave of retirements approaching, the North Dakota State University Extension Office wants to expand a training program to prepare new agents.

Duane Hauck, director of NDSU Extension, said 35 percent of extension agents are either eligible to retire now or will be in five years.

Officials are hoping to expand an Agent-In-Training program to prepare new agents to fill the vacancies.

“It’s the kind of work that you don’t necessarily get trained for by getting your four-year degree,” Hauck said. “It’s the kind of work that you learn while on the job.”

Participants in the Agent-In-Training program work with an experienced extension agent for up to 18 months before becoming county extension agents on their own.

NDSU Extension currently has one Agent-In-Training position and is seeking legislative funding to add four more, Hauck said.

As an extension agent for Steele County, Andy Johnson has to be prepared to help people with questions on everything from agriculture to personal finance to nutrition to the county 4-H program.

“I can get any question asked of me that you can imagine,” he said.

Johnson, 29, said he is glad he began his extension career as an Agent-In-Training in Walsh County before becoming a county agent.

“Starting out in an extension office with no prior experience can be a daunting task and somewhat overwhelming,” Johnson said. “There are so many things that you’re immediately involved with.”

Hauck said extension agents are more successful if they have the opportunity to gain experience before becoming agents on their own.

NDSU Extension has the full-time equivalent of 100 extension agents who work in all 53 counties plus the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. There are currently three agent positions open as a result of retirements.

Competition for college graduates who would make good extension agents is intense, Hauck said.

But it’s a career choice that many find satisfying because they’re able to help people, he said.

“It’s very fulfilling work because every day presents you with different challenges and opportunities,” Hauck said. “The amount of people interaction that you have is second to none.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590