It’s graduation season for secondary and post-secondary education. Some graduates are continuing their formal education and many are looking for work. Many are still trying to figure out their career. Too many have never considered agriculture as a career path for a variety of perceived reasons: low wages, poor benefits, they don’t hire women, less than desirable working conditions, no experience in agriculture, no jobs, no opportunity for advancement. All of those perceptions are wrong. This column isn’t saying there aren’t less than desirable jobs in agriculture but these jobs are shrinking as agriculture adapts to the need for qualified, highly trained, committed individuals. So what are the facts?
• The USDA and Purdue University just released a study with some important findings. They predict the almost 60,000 job openings per year for at least the next five years in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields. And this doesn’t include jobs for which a four-year degree isn’t necessary such as the day-to-day operations in the cattle industry and crop protection. Currently the country is only producing approximately 35,000 graduates leaving a deficit of over 20,000 qualified potential employees.
• With this deficit of qualified graduates, employers are willing to hire the right individuals without an appropriate degree or background. They are willing to train the right person or help reimburse them for coursework. Industry works with institutions like Barton Community College on advisory boards to help develop curriculum appropriate for their industry. Industry was instrumental in helping develop the current Crop Protection and Beef Cattle Production Certificate Programs designed to allow students to obtain necessary skills for the agriculture industry in just two semesters. Many are willing to hire students as they are involved in their studies and if the fit is right, hire them full-time after completion.
• Pay and benefits are not only on par with other industries but in many cases wages and benefits are better. Today’s agriculture industry wants to hire and keep the right employees. Many opportunities for advancement exist for dedicated, qualified employees. Today’s agriculture industry is looking for employees viewing their work as a career, not just a job.
• If you take time to look, you will find more and more women working in the industry, many in jobs traditionally considered the domain of men. Industry needs qualified, hardworking individuals and old barriers are rapidly disappearing.
• While conditions may sometimes be a bit warm or cold, dusty or muddy, today’s agricultural work environment is high tech and overall quite safety conscious. Looking in the cab of a tractor or sprayer looks more like a jet cockpit than a piece of farm machinery.
• Finally, many of today’s high school graduates are totally unfamiliar with what today’s agricultural industry is. The industry needs to aggressively market the combination of important jobs with good wages and benefits to today’s labor pool.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.