Where will we find our next generation of agribusiness managers? How can we make sure they have the preparation they need to be successful? What role should agribusiness play in answering these questions? As we look to the future, these are some pretty important questions that deserve serious thought by everyone interested in the future of agriculture. Even though answering them won’t necessarily help a feed and grain firm in the short run, they are critical questions for the long-run health of the industry. In this article, we will focus on some ideas and strategies to ensure the agribusiness management talent pipeline remains full of the kind of individuals the industry needs for a successful future.
Making sure we have young men and women preparing for the agricultural careers of the future will be no small task. USDA projects that between 2010 and 2015 there will be 54,400 jobs annually for individuals with a B.S. or higher degree in the agricultural sciences. Over that period, there will be about 29,300 annual graduates from agriculture, forestry/natural resources, and veterinary medicine programs. Another 24,200 graduates annually will come from allied disciplines such as business, communication, biological sciences, engineering and health sciences. So, over the next few years there will be about 1,000 more jobs annually for B.S. and higher graduates available than there are graduates to fill them. And while we don’t have the data, we regularly hear from our friends in the agricultural industry that there is a need for more graduates with associate or two-year degrees. So, as an industry, we have our work cut out for us simply to make sure we have the numbers of individuals we need before we say anything about how these individuals are prepared.
There are a couple of important implications here. First, we all must work together to ensure that young men and women understand the exciting opportunities and the breadth of those opportunities in food and agriculture. Institutions such as the ones we work for use a variety of recruiting strategies to help get the word out and recruit young people to study food and agricultural disciplines. Future Farmers of America (FFA), 4-H, K-12 outreach programs, dual-credit courses, teacher education — you can find aggressive outreach/recruiting programs at places such as Purdue University and the University of Idaho, as well as most every other university with an agricultural college. But we can only go so far, and there is no question in our minds that hearing from industry can both reinforce the messages we convey and reach audiences we can’t reach. A number of strategies are possible for industry here:
1. Partner with your local university/community college. Take some time to meet the individuals responsible for recruiting at your local university/college.
2. Partner with your local FFA/4-H/high schools. Through your involvement, you can help students see a future in your firm/industry.
3. Partner with a “non-traditional” organization. Maybe you should be connecting with the local science fair, or the Future Business Leaders of America.
Preparing the next generation
We won’t spend too much time on this point, but it may be useful for you to know a bit more about some of the ways colleges are working to help prepare students for industry careers, and what may have changed since you were a student. The classroom remains central, of course, but there is a big push now for what are called “active learning strategies” or student-centered learning — getting students deeply involved and engaged in the learning process. In years gone by, the lecture by a professor was emblematic of a college education. Today, you are likely to find that lecture available via video for the student to view outside class so that class time is focused on discussion/case studies/application/lab work, etc. Our guess is that many students have had more team projects than they care to acknowledge, and writing and oral communication are stressed across curricula, not just in English or communications courses. Of course, not every student is better prepared than they once were in these areas, but the opportunities are there. At the University of Idaho, students majoring in agribusiness must take a “capstone” course in their senior year. In this class, they work with an agribusiness firm to tackle a management challenge facing that firm. They do background research and develop a plan to tackle the issue and present this to management at the conclusion of the course. Your feed or grain business might search out such opportunities to give you outside insight into a problem you are facing, as well as be introduced to potential employees.