If you have an agricultural background, there are three things you need to know about university and the post-graduation job market.
The GOOD NEWS: This year nearly 2 million college students will graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree.
The BIG QUESTION: Will graduates find a job?
The SIMPLE ANSWER: Yes…if they majored in agriculture.
You may be surprised to hear this, especially if you are aware of the challenges that face some branches of agriculture and the world economics of dairy farming in the past several years. If you have college age children who are graduating, you may also be swayed by the “graduating gloom” that pervades these young people, as they leave higher learning to enter the workforce, often accompanied by debt.
Yes! There is a shortage. But it’s a shortage of graduates NOT a shortage of jobs.
According to a report released nine months ago by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Purdue University, employers have 57,9000 job openings in agriculture and related fields each year. But just 35,400 students graduate annually with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture. That means there is a shortfall of 22,500 ag graduates! If you’re graduating this year or selecting courses in university, it’s a good plan to customize your resume or your curriculum to make the most of your agricultural interests and assets.
The grass is greener on the Ag side of the career fence.
All employers face a catch 22 situation. They look for entry level employees but find that it’s a challenge for them to find someone with practical experience before that graduate has had a chance for hands-on experience. A farm background is like the ‘farm league’ for a major sports team. Employers look here to see who has the skills, work ethic and passion to contribute to their business team. Many “ag” kids have those attributes in spades! These grads are known to cross the urban/rural work line easier than those who don’t have comparable hands on experience. Farm life, 4-H, and multi-tasking from an early age means they have experience that will translate well into project management, work logistics, business analysis and commitment to starting and finishing what they start.
Growth in job opportunities will vary.
The facts reported by the USDA study don’t mean that the picture is rosy for everyone. Some employers will struggle to find enough graduates to fill jobs. In a few areas, employers will find an oversupply of job applicants. As well, companies will continue to face the challenge of hiring a diverse workforce reflective of society as a whole. Generally speaking, this is good news for Ag graduates. By it’s very nature agriculture is all-inclusive when it comes to practical training to manage climbing the career ladder. Employers recognize how important self-motivation, work ethic, and passion is to moving their businesses forward, and ag graduates have had numerous practical experiences in learning and applying these skills. Being able to relate to employer’s needs is one of many opportunities that ag graduates have to differentiate themselves in the competitive job market.
“The agriculture workforce is shrinking with age.”
The modern agricultural workplace is not immune from the major changes that are affecting all businesses. One of the major ones is the aging workforce. About 25 percent of the existing professional agriculture and food workforce is 55 and older. Inevitably retirement will become the next step for this large group. Simultaneously this will mean that there will be new opportunities for a steady flow of young people. Discerning employers and human resources departments are planning and preparing ways to handle this migration so that outgoing and incoming changes don’t negatively affect their workforce and financial sustainability.
“Ag students need to be prepared for these opportunities!”
Those who don’t prepare for the job market, even if they have the right background and skills, are overlooking ways to get themselves to the front of the pack. Practical experience is always an asset. Many ag students work as summer interns in areas where they have or want to gain expertise. Graduates who are mobile will also have more job offers, especially if they are willing to use their technical and professional skills in other states or countries.
“How much ag background is needed?”
Full-time employment for new graduates in the agriculture industry spans dozens of fields with nothing more in common than that they work with crops or animals at some point along the production chain. No wonder knowing what to expect from this industry is tough. Throw into the mix the fact that there are ever-changing demands from consumers and society, and it is clear that ag careers are raising the bar to a place where job skills include fielding hard questions and media challenges. Once again many ag raised grads have had experience with this aspect of modern society’s not always friendly focus on the food production industry.
Having said that, there are still many significant areas that the USDA research is reporting as having great potential for job seekers between 2015 to 2020.
Here are five areas that are reporting needs for Ag grads.
“Graduates with expertise and experience in traditional food animal production will be in demand, especially in poultry, dairy, and swine operations.”
“Consumer demand for nutritious and safe food will contribute to the high demand for food scientists and technologists in new production development, food processing, and food safety. Food-animal nutritionists will see a continued strong employment market in research and development programs connected with feed and animal health”
“As companies explore the precision ag space, they will be looking for job candidates with experience with software, hardware, and agriculture to develop and enhance their offerings.”
As the number of specialty producers of fruits, vegetables, and organic products (to name a few) grows, so will the need for knowledgeable workers and advisors. “Graduates with degrees in sustainable crop production and management will likely fare better in the employment market than will those with degrees in animal production and management.”
- Management and business.
Almost 50% of the new ag-related jobs each year are found in this area. “Most graduates with bachelor’s degrees in business management will enter sales and technical and service jobs. Those with advanced degrees will more likely begin careers as economists, financial analysts, lending executives, marketing managers and human resources specialists.”
Where do you fit in best?
College graduates with an ag background or an ag degree will no doubt find they can make the best of both worlds. Long gone is the narrow view of agriculture that only saw it as a production industry. Everyone from the farm gate to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is singing the praises of ag. “It’s not just production agriculture now, but this is an expanding, entrepreneurial, creative, opportunistic aspect of our economy that I think will continue.” One of the consultants in USDA’s job study summed it up perfectly, “People realize that this sector isn’t our traditional ‘cows, plows and sows’ industry anymore. It’s tremendously diverse.”
“Show me the money!”
We’ve covered a lot of positive aspects of getting a job offer upon graduation. Last, but far from least, is a quick overview of what kind of remuneration can be expected. According to Mike Gaul, career services director for Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences “The average starting salary for ag college’s 2014 grad was about $48,000-with around half going out at about $50,000.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Regardless of whether you are entering or graduating from university, make sure you consider to emphasize your agricultural background as you look at the broad range of opportunities within agricultural business. Not only will you be warmly welcomed by employers but you will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses the world’s most significant challenge…food production. Great work!