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Help wanted – careers in agriculture

POSTED November 10, 2017 11:31 a.m.

This week Barton Community College along with public and private post-secondary institutions and business participated in a two day career fair in Hutchinson. According to the sponsor, ESSDACK, there were five thousand students in attendance. The focus of this event was to expose students to a variety of career choices that many may not have known even existed and those not necessarily requiring a traditional four-year college degree. Areas short of a pool of qualified employees lacking the technical skills for good paying jobs with good benefits.
Not surprisingly the agriculture section of institutions providing technical training and companies seeking employees, ranging from equipment manufacturers to those providing agricultural services or serving the agriculture industry was large. And while this was happening, Barton is starting to enroll students for the spring semester. These events are linked by one major factor – a chronic shortage of qualified workers in industry and technical certificate and two-year degree programs needing more students to fill the need. So what is the problem? Why aren’t more high school graduates and nontraditional students looking for better lives rushing to agriculture? Here are a few thoughts separating myth from reality.
• Myth: Companies only want “farm kids” and only “farm kids” can become farmers and ranchers and city folk need not apply. Reality: Even if every “farm kid” stayed in some aspect of agriculture the industry would be desperately short of employees and the next generation of producers. The industry is looking for hard-working, responsible, motivated, intelligent people and some of their best employees grew up in cities.
• Myth: Agriculture is a career for men. Reality: More and more women are working in all aspects of agriculture. Ag majors at Barton are approximately one-third women. Companies want qualified, motivated individuals and gender is simply not relevant.
• Myth: Jobs in agriculture don’t pay as well as other areas, lack benefits, and there is no room for advancement. Reality: Good employees are in demand. If you are willing to work hard and apply yourself your income and benefits are excellent in most companies and if they value you, they provide opportunities for advancement. There are many working in agriculture with two-year degrees or certificates making substantially more than those with four-year degrees and those that taught them in school.
• Myth: These aren’t jobs for those interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Reality: In fact it is just the opposite is true in all phases of the industry. Take an average farmer as an example. To be successful they need knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, math, economics, technology, and a bit of engineering. These are careers ideally suited for those with a STEM mindset.
• Myth: Jobs are dirty and you are outside all day in the weather. Reality: You can if you want and many enjoy this. However, you are just as likely to sit in the cab of a tractor worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with air-conditioning and air-ride seat. You can work outside with crops and livestock in Ag or never set foot outside an office building or lab.
While the perception of agriculture as a career is changing, one of the biggest obstacles those of us in the industry face is helping parents, counselors, and others helping prepare students for life after high school to think of agriculture as a rewarding career in as little as one semester. And for older individuals they can prepare for a career in as little as two semesters.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.

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