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Wanted: College graduates with a background in agriculture
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

A recent study by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development reveals that the agribusiness industry has plenty of job openings, but not enough college graduates to fill them.

“While the demand for college-educated workers is relatively small for farm producers, the processing of crop and livestock output requires trained employees with degrees in agriculture, conservation programs, secondary education, government and banking,” said CAED economist Marcia Jones.

Farm-related activities accounted for 15 percent of the value of agribusiness output in 2006, she said. The processing and manufacturing of agricultural products accounted for 70 percent of the $76 billion in economic activity agriculture provided Georgia that same year.

Checking the demand

When CAED completed the workforce need study in fall 2008, the agribusiness job pool was projected to increase 1.4 percent annually to the year 2014. That was to be 9,320 additional job openings, 1,045 of which would require college-level training.

The U.S. economic bust has since shrunk the job market, Jones said. But the need for ag graduates still exists.

Georgia’s agribusiness industry will need an additional 1,000 college-trained workers by 2016. The state’s colleges are predicted to produce enough graduates to fill half of those positions, said Jones.

The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fort Valley State University and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College produce the majority of Georgia’s agricultural graduates. Agribusiness-related programs can be found through the university system’s 35 institutions, which offer 151 agriculture-related degree programs, ranging from certificates of less than a year to doctoral degrees.

State goals

In 2006, agribusiness directly accounted for 11 percent of the state’s total economic output and 8 percent of the state’s workforce, or almost 400,000 workers.

But indirectly, Jones said, the impact was much more when the industry’s influence on other Georgia businesses is considered.

“That total is $119.8 billion and more than 715,000 jobs,” she said. “The $76.3 billion is just the direct impact of ag, whereas the $119.8 billion is the total impact.”

Agribusiness also ties directly into Georgia’s future, said Jones. The Commission for a New Georgia, a non-profit corporation appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue and led by CEOs and senior executives from across Georgia, wants the state’s agribusiness sector ranked as one of the nation’s top competitors by 2020.

Meeting the need

Georgia’s agribusiness workforce is well prepared technically, said CAED economist Tommie Shepherd. He conducted one-on-one interviews with agribusiness owners as part of the study.

“In general, they were saying that students know the subjects well, but they need more training in communications and leadership qualities and the knowledge of how all of business hangs together, including sales, business and marketing,” he said.

According to a mailed survey, Jones said, employers also want more students with problem-solving skills, critical thinking, initiative, hands-on training, customer service and work ethic.

She also said the many businesses were asking that college agricultural programs teach students the theories of agriculture and then how to apply them. For example, they should teach ways to dispose of poultry in an environmentally friendly way with little cost. Or, teach farm labor laws and regulations and how to use them to find legal workers to harvest crops.

Students, Jones said, can do more on their own to build resume and job chances by participating in internships and getting as much hands-on experiences as possible.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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