Youth Discussion Meet: Agricultural careers go lacking | Michigan Farm News

Youth Discussion Meet: Agricultural careers go lacking

Category: People

by Adrian Schunk

Only 8.6 percent of public high schools offering AFNR career and technical education (CTE) programs.

Michigan Farm Bureau Youth Discussion Meets help introduce young leaders to the organization, while simulating a committee meeting where discussion and active participation are expected from each participant. This competition is evaluated on an exchange of ideas and information on a pre-determined topic. Over the next several weeks, topics of discussion will be highlighted providing resources for research and preparation for the 2018 Youth Discussion Meet events.

Topic: It is predicted that over the next five years, 60,000 high-skilled, agriculture-related jobs will be open annually across the United States. However, only approximately 35,000 will be filled with graduates equipped with agriculture-related degrees or certificates. Discuss what obstacles are preventing students from pursuing these opportunities. What programs encourage young people to pursue a degree, certificate or career in agriculture?

Challenge: Most students don’t understand the breadth of career opportunities within the agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR) industries. Many limit agriculture to farming. However, Purdue University reports management, business, sustainable foods, education, communication, governmental services and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers will be a vast majority of those available.

This knowledge deficiency impacts not only potential students and job seekers, but lawmakers, educational professionals and administrators.

Potential solutions: Increasing promotion of these career opportunities can help. This is not only the responsibility of agriculture organizations and education institutions across the nation, but industry and government leaders as well.

Solution in action: The National FFA Organization and Discovery Education partnered to create the Ag Explorer program, with career-finder applications and virtual field trips for students. The initiative partners with leading agricultural companies, expanding the “knowledge about the breadth of career opportunities in agriculture” through providing virtual career fairs, networking and exploration. Additionally, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) offers an annual AFNR Careers Conference to middle school and high school students and created an Ag Careers Video Series for interested educators and students.

Challenge: With only 8.6 percent of public high schools offering AFNR career and technical education (CTE) programs, a nationwide shortage of 350+ agricultural educators and the remaining school administration having scarce knowledge of AFNR career opportunities, students are left unexposed to the career opportunities available to them.

This challenge contributes to the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in agriculture. Only 30 percent of AFNR professionals being of ethnic minorities and only 31 percent of American farmers are women, reflecting the narrow exposure to these careers.

Potential solutions: A way to mitigate this challenge is to increase the number of AFNR career and technical education programs across the nation, in both urban and rural areas. Other opportunities include industry members providing career fairs for their local communities, creating AFNR career workshops for high school counselors and administration and having agricultural companies promote high school job shadow and internship opportunities.

Solution in action: Michigan State University’s (MSU) pre-college programs promote AFNR career opportunities through their Institute for Multicultural Students, Multicultural Apprenticeship Program and 4-H Exploration Days. Michigan FFA’s Challenge 24 Teacher Academy exposes students to a career in AFNR education, in the hopes of creating more AFNR educators and programs. Lastly, MFB has supported efforts including the Marshall Plan and Michigan Merit Curriculum Flexibility which are making expansive efforts to link Michigan’s top talent to careers in trade industries.

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Challenge: Postsecondary education affordability, accessibility and acceptability are increasing concerns. Even when accounting for inflation, college is more expensive than ever, and college enrollment numbers across the nation have decreased for the sixth year in a row. Limited AFNR degree or certificates programs – coupled with their respective GPA and standardized test score requirements – result in location and acceptance barriers for potential students.

Potential Solutions: Obtaining scholarships, exploring vocational and technical education and community college programming and linking potential employees to the industry prior to graduation through work-study programs are all possible solutions.

Solution in Action: MSU’s Institute of Agriculture Technology offers three- to four-semester certificate programs, an affordable and efficient avenue of education. There are numerous off-campus partnership programs across the state as well. Jackson College’s Agriculture Technology Program was created with some help from Jackson County Farm Bureau leaders. Additionally, MSU offers six free credits, a $3,000+ value, to high school students who have completed an approved AFNR education program. Scholarships are available through 4-H, The National FFA Organization, Michigan Farm Bureau and numerous agriculture businesses.