(Nov. 2) SALINAS, Calif. — The need for skilled supervisors with proven leadership transcends across industries, and the agriculture industry is no different.

Karen Timmins, vice president of human resources for Irvine-based Western Growers, said the association is applying for a $1-million state grant to launch Western Growers University, which industry members can attend to hone their supervisory skills.

“We did some early needs assessments, and our members said they wanted some supervisor training for their front-end people who were guiding the production of their workforces,” Timmins said. “These are people who are often promoted from within the company because they’re loyal and they have strong technical skills. They understand the business, but they aren’t necessarily prepared with good supervisory skills before they’re given the job.”

Western Growers plans to meet in early 2007 with the California Employment Training Panel to apply for the grant.

EPT provides up to $85 million annually in job-training funds to employers throughout the state. Since 1983, it has invested more than $850 million to train over 600,000 California workers. The organization does not design the curriculum or training materials.

“We went to work to develop that content,” Timmins said. “We will initially offer 12 modules.”

Classes would be offered in business writing, equipment operation, computer software, maintenance skills, vocational English skills, team building, technical skills, safety, problem solving and job-specific training.

“From there, we realized there is also a need for training in response to new technology, safety and mandated training like sexual harassment,” Timmins said. “We realized this could grow, and it could turn into something that becomes an important added value for our members.”

Western Growers’ member companies would pay $100 per employee. Classes would be in English and Spanish and tailored to the employees’ availability. Hopefully, Timmins said, employers would consider instruction job related and thus allow classes during normal work hours.

“We’re taking a blended learning approach,” said Anthony Magno, who recently joined Western Growers as one of three instructors. Training would be offered in two formats: Web-based classes led by virtual instructors and traditional classes taught in-person by Magno and his colleagues.

“It’s based on the needs of the member,” Magno said. “If they have the computers, we could do everything Web-based. It’s really their preference.”

Lupe Cuevas, who came to Western Growers after working in human resources positions with Disney and Bank of America, would offer training in Spanish.

Timmins said it is her hope that agriculture employers will encourage their supervisors to enroll in order to remain competitive and to attract and retain their employees.