Perception vs. reality

Departments - Outlook

March 23, 2016

In May of 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University released the results from an employment outlook report for 2015-2020 showing that agriculture is a field with many more available jobs than potential employees. According to a press release about the report, there are “an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States.” However, only about 35,400 students are completing a bachelor’s degree or higher in these fields each year. That translates to more than 22,000 high-skilled jobs annually that aren’t getting filled.

In addition, while we were working on this issue, I received a press release with the results of a survey sponsored by food megacompany Land O’Lakes that found that 54 percent of those surveyed (adults 18 years and older) “think it is difficult or very difficult for recent college graduates to get a job in agriculture.” Furthermore, there still seems to be a perception that the only jobs in agriculture or horticulture are low-tech, laborer-type positions. Yes, those types of jobs still exist, but they’re not the only game in town.

Returning to the USDA and Purdue University study, the job offering is quite the opposite these days. About half of the openings will be in management and business, with another 27 percent landing in higher-tech, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas. The report also projected “good employment opportunities for the next five years,” although the job seekers may not necessarily be in the areas with the largest demand; they may need to relocate. The strongest job markets, the report says, are going to be for “plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists and farm-animal veterinarians.”

It seems that there is a disconnect between the perception upcoming generations of workers have and the reality of working in the agriculture industry. Could this be contributing to the lack of qualified workers going into the field, including ornamental production?

In this issue, we investigate the topic further and debut our Future of the Industry Report, in which we share research results and interviews with horticulture students, professors and green industry hiring managers, starting on page nine. More than half of the students surveyed expressed interest in plant production/growing, so whether you’re finding it difficult to fill positions or haven’t had any labor issues recently, you won’t want to miss this section — these students may just be involved in the future of your company.

Karen E. Varga, Editor

216-393-0290 | Twitter: @Karen_GIE