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Feb 13, 2023

Young leaders program shows the industry is in good hands

IPPE's Young Leaders Under 30 program proves there are young people who want to work in animal agriculture -- they just need to be shown that it's an option.

At this year’s International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE), I was given a chance to talk with a few of the young people that will soon be leading the various industries that make up the animal agriculture industry. My conversations with the members of IPPE’s Young Leaders Under 30 Program and the students from Kansas State University’s Grain Science and Industry program were both enlightening and hopeful.

How IPPE’s Young Leaders Under 30 program works

IPPE hosted the 12th annual IPPE Young Leaders Under 30 Program at this year’s show. The program is designed to allow future leaders in a company to attend IPPE when they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend.

Nick Link, production manager at a liquid egg plant and Joelle Hemmelgarn, an engineer at Cooper Farms, were both members of IPPE’s Young Leaders Under 30 program at this year’s Expo and took time from their show to speak with me.

Applicants must be between 21 and 29 years old and be employed by a company with a membership to American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), North American Meat Institute (NAMI) or U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) and have their application selected by a panel of industry professionals. If selected, winners receive complimentary access to the show, hotel accommodations for two nights and access to most education programs. Winners are also recognized at a special breakfast at the show.

The value of investing in young employees

IPPE Young Leaders Under 30 Program is a great example of an industry attempting to engage its younger members in what is, ultimately, a win-win for the winner and the industry. Winners get a free trip and the chance to learn new things that will help them advance, and the industry gets to show its young leaders it values them and their future, hopefully making them members for life. The next generation is smart. I asked every one of them why they were interested in the industry, and the top response was that it was a stable industry where they could have a rewarding career and live in a rural community similar to where they grew up. They simply need to be given an opportunity.

“After my freshman year, I got an internship at Cooper Farms,” says Hemmelgarn. “I'm from around the area where Cooper farm is located. And I just really enjoyed the company and the family atmosphere. I didn’t go in with a passion for turkey.”

Hemmelgarn has now worked for Cooper Farms for her entire career and hopes to someday retire from the company. She, like most of the young people I talked with, bucked the stereotype of being job hoping opportunist. Most never worked on a farm, and many were not involved in 4H or Future Farmers of America. More often than not, they just grew up in rural communities and were lucky enough to have a family member in the industry or a professor or guidance counselor recommend it to them.

“When I graduate from high school, I knew I wanted to go into engineering,” explained Hemmelgarn. “I really wanted to go to Ohio State, being from Ohio. I kind of stumbled upon food engineering and talked to the one for the College of Ag about it. “They explained how I could still be in engineering and focus on food, and that was really interesting to me.”

New Crop blog

The answers I received during these conversations made me realize that the answer to the industry’s worker shortage is not making our industry more appealing to young people. The careers that are offered are appealing! It’s in letting young people know that these jobs exist at all. Letting them know that they do not have to move to a city in order to find a good career.

These conversations also inspired me to start a new blog, “New Crop," which will focus on how the feed manufacturing, grain handling and processing industries, along with agribusinesses overall, are:

  • Educating future and current members of the industry for their future careers
  • Ideas and efforts to improve employee recruitment
  • Retention and how the industry can be better at selling itself to young people

I hope you join me on the journey, and if you know of anything your company or organization is doing in education and recruitment that would make a good blog topic, let me know!

Steven Kilger

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