A key concept taught in any economics class is the difference between an economic and a noneconomic good. The difference involves scarcity. In fact a concise definition of economics is “The study of the allocation of scarce resources between competing ends.” Scarcity is simply defined as the amount of something that is available compared to the demand for that something. Any scarce good has economic value and the scarcer the good the greater that value is. And shortages of a good or resource increases its value. Many of us have seen this reflected in the prices paid when purchasing food items such as beef over the last year. However, the topic of this column isn’t a shortage of a food commodity but one of the inputs for agricultural production – labor.
Whether in crop or livestock production there is an acute shortage of trained labor in almost every aspect of agriculture production. This includes the companies serving the producers of food, fiber and fuel as well as the producers themselves. The Barton Community College Agriculture Department is constantly contacted by companies, job recruiting agencies, and area farmers looking for current or former students with the background fitting a particular type of position or bright students willing to learn. They are willing to work around class schedules for the right student as they want them as well educated as possible for the position.
Part of the problem for the agriculture industry is the public’s perception of these jobs. People in general think they need a background in agriculture to work in the industry. They think these jobs are menial, low wage positions, with few benefits. So what is the solution?
• Industry needs to actively invest in educating the public. Many of these jobs, while requiring physical labor, are actually quite high-tech. Salaries are much better than can be earned in most other employment sectors in a state like Kansas. Most have paid vacation and holidays, sick leave, bonus programs, overtime, health insurance plans and retirement income programs. Many pay for employee educational opportunities. Industry needs to educate potential employees that what is needed is a willingness to learn and good work skills and/or post-secondary training in the area, not necessarily a farm background.
• Colleges such as Barton Community College need to find the most effective ways to expose the public to opportunities available to obtain a strong background in crop and/or livestock production in two years of less with Associate’s Degree’s and certificate programs providing the basic background skill set for agriculture.
• The public needs to understand that while four-degrees are great, they are not necessary for a good, well paid career in agriculture.
• Finally, you don’t need to be eighteen to go back to school for career training and companies often likely slightly older, more mature and settled potential employees.