Financial services holding company Bank of America has given Hartnell College a multi-year grant of $260,000 to help the school support local agricultural employees.

The money will go toward Hartnell’s Ag Tech Workforce Initiative, a $2.6 million project that trains farmworkers for a variety of jobs that require varying skill levels.

The three-year effort will provide free and non-credit courses to workers in the Salinas Valley’s agricultural, processing, and manufacturing industries.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will be emphasized in the classes (STEM).

The classes will be more like hands-on training, designed to lead to full-time work opportunities.

Participants will be paid $15-18 per hour for up to 10 hours per week of work.

Agricultural workers should be better prepared to take on advanced positions paying $20-$29 per hour, such as food safety technician, human resource technician, frontline agriculture supervisor, and small-scale farm manager, after completing the program.

Hartnell’s Dean of Career Technical Education and Workforce Development Clint Cowden said: “Preparing employees to step into these expanding roles has a ripple effect, not only in their own households but throughout our entire local economy.

He added the grant would be “life-changing” for workers who participate.

Taylor Farms, Automated Harvesting LLC, Tanimura & Antle, Dole Fresh Vegetables, and Braga Fresh are some of the local businesses Hartnell intends to direct initiative participants to.

The support from Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, of the effort is part of the bank’s larger five-year, $1.5 billion commitment to enhancing racial equity and economic opportunity for communities of color and other underserved populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Jennifer Dacquisto, Bank of America’s Monterey Bay president, echoed Cowden, reiterating the bank’s commitment to assisting Hartnell College in its fight for equity.

She said: “The Monterey Bay region is an $8 billion agricultural hotspot, with Hispanic-Latino field labor constituting 80 percent of the workforce.

“Because the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing economic disparities in communities of color, especially so with our local agricultural farm workers, we are investing into the up-skilling and reskilling of this critical labor force through partnerships with local institutions like Hartnell College. Their Ag Tech Workforce program will go a long way to help those most at risk of job disruption as the ag industry evolves.”

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