So what does industry see more important than students? Attributes such as a sense of urgency, being a quick study, being results focused, intelligence and excellent computer skills were all rated more important by industry compared to students. We will focus on the first three — most students are very computer savvy today, so it is not surprising students rated this lower than employers. And intelligence is something we can build on, as well as working to attract bright individuals to the industry. But, both the AFA and the MSU/APLU/UIC studies show a bit of disconnect between students and industry on what we might call “the pace of business.”
This is an important issue and one that agribusiness managers should be sensitive to also. In general, these studies suggest that new hires are pretty dialed in to what is important. But, they may need some coaching to help them understand the importance of self-starting, of generating results, of getting things done ... today. Managers who understand this disconnect, and who work to bring new hires along on these areas, will likely lower frustration levels (for both parties) and will increase the likelihood of a successful hire. Ideas here include careful communication of expectations with respect to effort/projects/delivery, mentoring/job shadowing so that the new hire experiences the expectations firsthand, and quick follow-up when a new employee is not delivering. On the last point, it is important that the employer recognize this failure to deliver as “not knowing” as opposed to “not caring” in many cases.
Some final points
Back in February, Yahoo! Education ran a post on college majors that are “Useless,” and agriculture was “Useless Degree” No. 1! Of course, we could not disagree more strongly — we are very bullish on the future of the food and agricultural industries and the future for agricultural graduates. That said, the Yahoo! posting was a vivid reminder of the momentum we have to overcome to help students understand the opportunities that agriculture can offer. Reaching out to nontraditional sources of talent means we will need to help those students overcome some stereotypes about our industry.
Finally is the role social media plays in attracting, retaining, educating and leading new employees. Our next generation of managers has grown up in a social media world. They come with an amazing ability to connect through these social media tools. How do we use those tools most effectively? How can the next generation put those skills to work in our food and agribusiness firms? These are questions that agribusiness managers should be asking.
Providing for 9 billion people by the year 2050 is going to take an exceptional pool of human capital. We speak for all of our colleagues at U.S. colleges and universities in saying we look forward to working with industry to make sure that pool of talent is available and prepared for the challenge.
Dr. Jay Akridge was appointed Dean of Agriculture of Purdue University in January 2009. As dean he is responsible for administering academic programs in the College of Agriculture, the Indiana Agricultural Experiment Station, the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service and a number of state regulatory services, including the State Chemist’s Office and the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. Dr. John Foltz is Associate Dean, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID.