University of Florida Partners With Virginia Tech to Help Armenia’s Workforce Transition to Market Economy
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
Virginia Tech has won a $2.5 million federal contract to help Armenia improve the competitiveness of its agricultural workforce, Public Radio Armenia first reported. Program funds will benefit college students in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, who are studying to assume leadership roles in the food and agribusiness sector.
The five-year program, InnovATE Armenia, is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The work will take place at the International Center of Agribusiness Research and Education, which is affiliated with the Armenian National Agrarian University.
“Armenia, situated in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, is emerging from decades as a command economy,” said Tom Hammett, Professor of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech and Director of the InnovATE project. “The grant is designed to give young people skills that will make them competitive in the new, market-based economy,” Hammett said. The curriculum will cover food safety, food production, and food processing, and including training in business, economics, marketing, and management.
“A big part of our work will be to provide students the opportunity to construct a skillset that is required in a free market economy,” said Angela Neilan, program manager for the venture. Along with the hard skills, soft skills – defined as traits relating to one’s emotional IQ, as well as communication ability, teamwork, and professionalism – are needed as well. “A participatory system means people also assume responsibility for the challenges,” Neilan said.
Program activities include:
- Designing a business plan for the center to increase revenue;
- Building ties with local farmers and agribusiness producers throughout Armenia;
- Organizing a summer camp for American college students; and
- Helping to build a wine academy — a venture that could also help develop tourism.
“Our charge is to make the program self-sustaining,” Hammett said.
Virginia Tech will lead the program, in partnership with Pennsylvania State University, the University of Florida (UF), and Tuskegee University.
This will be the University of Florida’s second venture in Armenia. From 2011-2013, UF staff went to Armenia in a project entitled “A Multilateral University Consortium to Strengthen Tourism Education, Research, and Industry Outreach.” That project, led by UF in partnership with Dokuz Eylul University (DEU) in Turkey and the Armenian State University of Economics (ASUE) in Armenia, successfully concluded in 2013.