Report Identifies Future Skills Gap in Agriculture Industry Talent Pool

Within the past two months, a newly graduated class of college students left their campuses, and many prepared to join the workforce. Based on results from a recent study, however, too few graduates from this year’s class through the class of 2020 will have studied agriculture-related disciplines to fill the employment opportunities available in the agriculture industry.

The report, authored by Purdue University, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA researchers, projects that the U.S. agriculture industry will average 57,900 job openings per year between 2015 and 2020 for new graduates. However, the report also estimates that just 35,400 graduates who pursued agriculture-related majors will enter the workforce in an average year. As a result, 39 percent of agriculture job openings will go unfilled, or employers will need to rely on hiring students from complementary fields, such as biology, business administration and engineering.

Of the projected agriculture jobs that will open annually between 2015 and 2020, the report estimates that the greatest share will open in the management and business sector, which would include careers for sales representatives, financial analysts, agricultural economists, marketing specialists and grain merchandisers. The following graph illustrates the estimated share of average annual agriculture job openings classified in the management and business sector and in three other sectors. Nearly half of average annual agriculture job openings from 2015 to 2020 are projected to involve management and business work.

The science and engineering sector, which would include occupations in fields such as food science, plant science, veterinary science, soil science, biological engineering and nutrition, is projected to represent 27 percent of annual job openings between 2015 and 2020. The other two sectors will have fewer estimated annual job openings. Careers classified in the food and biomaterials production sector include those for farmers and ranchers, forest managers, crop consultants and production managers. Positions within the education, communication and governmental services sector would include those for high school agriculture teachers, technical writers, farm services agents, plant and animal inspectors and extension educators.

The gap between agriculture industry job openings and graduates available with the necessary specialized skills varies by industry sector. Given the study’s projections, the following table illustrates that the food and biomaterials production sector could fill the greatest share of its annual job openings with graduates who have studied food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. The food and biomaterials production sector would only need to hire 11 percent of total new graduates from other disciplines. By comparison, a significant share of management and business; science and engineering; and education, communication and governmental services hires would need to originate from fields other than food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. Just 55 percent to 57 percent of total openings for graduates in these sectors could be filled by students who studied food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment, according to the study.

To see the full study findings report, go to https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/.

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