By JIM BYRUM
One of Michigan agriculture's great challenges today, and in the months and years ahead is filling a talent and workforce vacuum. Michigan agriculture continues to grow every year, and agricultural employers are hiring. Unfortunately, agricultural businesses across Michigan are desperate to find qualified people to fill those vacancies.
As Michigan agriculture races to produce enough food to feed an exploding world population, this demand will only increase.
In recent years, this has been an increasing problem in Michigan and around the country. Michigan agriculture is quick to recruit college students in relevant agriculture-related fields. After starting these promising agricultural leaders of the future as interns, many employers snap them up the minute they graduate, hiring them as full-time employees with good wages – some starting at as much as $50,000 a year – with benefits.
For a fresh college graduate inundated with mostly bleak news about the tight overall job market, agriculture provides a refreshing counter-trend: An abundance of job openings, challenging assignments, opportunities for growth, an industry that combines local work with global impact.. Many graduates with agriculture degrees also don't go back to the farm. Many join the industry with grain companies, agronomy companies, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, food processors and more.
Already one of Michigan's and our nation's most important industries, responsible for providing our nation's supply of safe, affordable and nutritious food, agriculture is only poised for even more growth and more job openings.
That's why the recent Yahoo news article citing three agriculture-related degrees as among the 10-most-useless college majors is grossly misleading and does a disservice to both college students and agriculture.
Here in Michigan, we see first-hand how graduates with agriculture degrees get hired quickly. Michigan's dairy sector, the state's top commodity, is expanding fast and positioning itself for greater international trade. Michigan's pork sector, one of the most dynamic in the nation, is working hard to increase exports and production capacity. Michigan's turkey and egg industries are recognized as national leaders in quality, standards and volume. Agri-businesses see rising demand for everything from feed to fertilizer to seed. Specialty crops, including Michigan potatoes, are starting to dominate the markets east of the Mississippi. And increases in grain production mean more bushels to harvest, handle, process and market. The stories of growth in Michigan agriculture go on and on.
To keep pace with the massive demand we face nationally and around the world, Michigan agriculture needs to hire more people, plain and simple. And college graduates with agriculture degrees are hot commodities in the job market right now.
In fact, we should take an additional step and start long before students graduate from college. Michigan high schools should encourage students to look at job prospects in agriculture, which today is a far cry from agriculture even a generation ago. Today, agriculture is about using the latest science, cutting edge technology, logistics, communications methods and more. Instead of pitchforks, the Michigan agricultural specialist today is more likely to hold smartphones and GPS technology to make sure every acre of land gets the optimum amount of nutrients, saving cost while protecting the environment.
Community colleges are another avenue for steering young people toward agriculture, again by helping spotlight opportunities in a wide range of skills.
The facts are clear about the future of college graduates with agricultural degrees: Within 6 months of graduation, 90 percent of graduates with agricultural-related degrees are hired in their field. For other degrees, the average is 50 percent. This data comes from agricultural deans at The Ohio State University, Purdue and Iowa State.
Graduates with agriculture degrees are in demand because agriculture itself is getting more sophisticated, requiring complex science, skills, logistical and technical know-how and more. They're in demand because we are about to see a generational shift in agriculture's current workforce, with many managers poised to retire soon, meaning more job openings in the future.
Idaho may not be a good measure for whether graduates with agriculture degrees are getting jobs, as the Yahoo article states. Here in Michigan, we're hiring and we need even more workers.
For college grads with agriculture-related majors, the future is promising – and Michigan jobs are waiting.
Byrum is president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association and member of the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan