September 9, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
California Polytechnic State University
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
University of Florida
Louisiana Tech University
The University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Illinois State University
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
Texas A&M University
Michigan State University
Florida A&M University
California Polytechnic State University
BioResource & Agricultural Engineering Department
Dr. Peter Livingston Ph.D.: -Learn by doing - our Junior and Senior classes are all project-based with 3 hours of lecture and 3 hours of lab. The students design and fabricate items related to the classes, which include: AutoCAD, solid works, machine design and fabrication, robotics and sensor designs and fabrication, concrete slab and wall design and fabrication.
-We work closely with our industry partners to make sure our students get meaningful internships. We have our own career fair.
-Leadership - our students are active in our clubs, where they are putting their skills to work, including Grow Crew (greenhouse, plant factory, aquaponics, and aquaculture), Ag Bot Club (autonomous machinery), ASABE Robotics (robots made for specific tasks. Students compete at international competition.), 1/4 scale tractor pull (ASABE national competition. Students build a new 1/4 scale tractor every year), Tractor Pull Club (students compete and maintain large tractors used in tractor pull competitions at over 20 fairs and events around California each year. They recently designed and built a new 1,500 HP version and have a 2,500 HP tractor.), students work to organize nationally sponsored rallies for ag engineering students around California, and the Ag Engineering Society (raise funds for scholarships by organizing and cooking hamburgers every Thursday and participate in catering events around campus).
Dr. Peter Livingston Ph.D.: -Leadership, see above
-Writing. Our student's career at Cal Poly culminates in the production of an exceedingly high-quality Capstone design report.
Dr. Peter Livingston Ph.D.: -Irrigation and canal system design and management skills
-Machinery design and fabrication
i. Solid works
ii. Machine shop and welding
iii. Servo hydraulic power and control systems (Danfoss Plus 1 programing)
Dr. Peter Livingston Ph.D.: -Leadership - active in clubs
-First, students hired speak conversational Spanish because that is the primary language of California's workforce.
Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung: Probably, remote-working jobs. Even though the overall job market is freezed a bit, there are many remote-working jobs; I heard that CDC is hiring a lot of people for contact tracing. But, once the pandemic is over, normal jobs (in-person workers, consultants, etc) will come back.
Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung: 1. Specific technical skills like program language, certain instruments
2. Team work experience (Student project team, capstone design)
Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung: Most students go to on-campus job fair to find a job.
Garth Woodruff Ph.D.: The trends we are already seeing is the "at-home" movement. People are living at home, working, cooking, etc., in a much greater way at home. This has created a significant demand in the residential landscape industry. I've had students competing for internships that in the end the company just hired them both. That wouldn't have happened a year ago. The landscape industry has been strong and growing over the last 40 plus years. However, what we have seen in the last nine months is astonishing. This at-home movement transcends how we see our space to how we cook, clean, entertain, even pets. So, for my current students it is very positive.
Garth Woodruff Ph.D.: This question brings into light the stark reality that we are seeing significant differences in student success. For many a classroom setting can be stimulating and bring out the best in a person. But when moved to an online environment that same successful student is struggling. And now we are all looking at ways to create positive experiences for those that aren't blossoming in this different learning environment. A gap year is one option. And even that gap year looks different because jobs are sparse in some areas and travel is difficult. My advice for a gap year is to be purposeful. Don't step out of an academic program without a thought-out plan. Because we are out of the norms adventure or work won't just fall in your lap.
And, taking a year to sit at home binging on game systems or social media is no way to spend a year of your life. Be purposeful in how that gap year looks. Find ways to enhance your learning or resume outside of the classroom. Seek work, be willing to volunteer during this time of need, look to family, be innovated or even entrepreneurial. Opportunities are there, but they look different and those taking a gap year will need to approach it with a purpose and plan. For the record, I love gap years. We can only teach and learn so much in a classroom. Travel and experiences build some of the strongest emotional intelligence one can get. If the current classroom setting isn't working look to other ways you can grow yourself.
Garth Woodruff Ph.D.: This is a tough time for graduates to be setting off into the new work market. We are clearly lucky in our department to have disciplines that are in high demand during a pandemic. But, if you're in an area that is slowed during the pandemic I think my advice would be three-fold:
Consider grad school - while your industry is slow use it as a way to get a leg up on other graduates and catapult yourself into a higher station when your industry comes back.
Look at other areas to build your resume - online certificates that are short and easy from well-known schools are cheap these days, time to seek mentors or build a professional possie is ample, being willing to take an unpaid internship just to build connections is possible. Look at ways to build a resume for a year vs. lamenting not getting that entry-level job.
Don't get a job, make a job - a big mix up in economy like this often creates openings in markets, even slowed markets. Look for those fissures in your industry and be brave enough to fill those gaps with entrepreneurial endeavors. If you can't get a job, start a business. When big business can't move fast enough in a rapidly changing market, be willing to jump in as a limber graduate.
Department of Agriculture, Biology & Health Sciences
Jimmy Bricker Ph.D.: Having the discipline to work remotely with minimal supervision and still be effective is the first trend of the day, it seems. No matter your discipline, chances are your new job will involve a virtual element. The trend for the agricultural employee hasn't changed much because of the pandemic.
Employers are looking for someone with a well-rounded knowledge of agriculture that includes agronomics, animal science, and business. Employers will train their recruits on the specifics of their enterprise and systems.
That process is much easier for them if the candidate has the background and mental agility to adapt their degree knowledge to learning their business and the candidate's specific job.
Jimmy Bricker Ph.D.: Using technology to the extent that the student has had the exposure is an eye catcher. The technology attached to drones covers most all of the agriculture fields from crops to livestock. Obviously, using data on a computer and applying it to a management decision demonstrates applied knowledge. Showing that you have some investigative experience by asking how it is that we are doing this, how are we using this, and how can it be done better indicates critical thinking. Whatever experience you are able to participate in at school, try to think about how it can be described in a resume to fit a skill. Students do a lot of neat things during their university years that are surely just part of the university experience, but they can also be resume bullets if thought of from a learning standpoint.
Jimmy Bricker Ph.D.: There are good places for jobs both geographically and within disciplines. The caveat is that with the slowdown in tax revenues for governments because of the pandemic, government job openings don't look good at present. Those would be extension, university, federal and state ag departments. Private industry has kept right on clicking and offering opportunities. Banking in the agricultural areas has been particularly interested in agriculture graduates from all disciplines. Recreational jobs in turf grass and horticulture are hiring. Livestock sectors are looking for students to advance the use of technology in their operations, be that genetic, nutritional efficiency, or electronic.
Curtis Weller Ph.D.: Indeed, those who adapt and persevere during this highly turbulent time will have experiences, knowledge, and confidence to draw upon when confronted with uncertainty and need to be flexible.
Curtis Weller Ph.D.: A solid grounding in primary chemical, microbiological, and physical principles are applied to food materials with an awareness of the global food system's strengths and weaknesses, especially its carbon footprint, sustainability, and resiliency in a changing climate.
Curtis Weller Ph.D.: -Practical experience through jobs, internships, or vocational volunteering,
-Demonstration of leadership, and
-Demonstration of comprehension of at least one culture beyond a graduate's own.
University of Florida
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Cathy Herren Carr: A 2018 APLU study on critical growth areas for students showed that new professionals need to be prepared for the following:
-Understand their role in the workplace and have realistic career expectations
-Recognize and deal constructively with conflict
-Accept and apply critique and direction in the workplace
-Communicate accurately and concisely
I would encourage graduating students to challenge themselves through group work, both inside and outside the classroom, to embrace conflict and critique. Although that is difficult for many, if they can address these situations positively, it can lead to tremendous personal and professional growth. Communication is also critical. Students need to learn to listen effectively and communicate accurately and concisely to prepare themselves for the workforce.
Cathy Herren Carr: There is salary information for entry-level positions available at Careerresources. This information is gathered from numerous colleges of agriculture and related sciences throughout the United States. In my opinion, career prospects in agriculture and related sciences are vital as we continue to work to feed a growing population through innovative and sustainable means.
Dr. Joshua Adams: In the forestry workplace, an essential requirement for the crew is having graduated from a SAF accredited school, which is required for many state licenses. We see them from a skill level; the ability to do hands-on fieldwork is of prime importance.
Dr. Joshua Adams: Right now, the most significant demand is in medium to large commercial timber companies.
Dr. Joshua Adams: Over the last decade, the trend will continue in which we will have to bridge the historical forestry technologies with new remote sensing, drone, and genetic technologies as we move toward precision forestry practices.
Christopher Clark: It is easier to get a job when you have a job. So, don't get too worried about finding the perfect job out of the gate. And, if you do start in something other than your dream job, work with your longer-term goals in mind. Be productive, put the team first, and be ready for opportunities when they come your way.
Christopher Clark: I think the story, in terms of technology, will continue to revolve around data collection and use. We are rapidly developing the ability to capture vast amounts of data generated by our activities and, perhaps a bit more slowly, enhancing our ability to analyze and use this data. As a result, I think technologies that collect data will continue their rapid evolution but will be an even larger premium on the technologies and skills that enable us to use this data.
Christopher Clark: The demand for agricultural and natural resource economists remains strong. Studies have suggested an ongoing shortage of agricultural management professionals, and several studies have ranked agricultural economics high in terms of starting salaries. I would say that reports of natural resource economics average starting salaries should be taken with a grain of salt as natural resource economists may be more willing to accept a lower-paying job for the opportunity to contribute to the social good and/or work in a desirable environment than other graduates.
Dr. Aslihan Spaulding: Based on what we hear from the HR professionals in the agriculture and food industry, students with hands-on learning experiences such as internships, leadership skills, active membership in organizations, and participation in professional development activities such as Ag Future of Americas (AFA) and National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) stand out.
Dr. Aslihan Spaulding: I recommend getting work experience through internships. This will allow them to practice what they learned in the classroom in the professional world and improve their teamwork, decision making, communication skills, etc. As a department, we are always communicating internship opportunities with our students via email and Social Media posts. We also host an Agriculture Career Fair every fall semester where students can meet with HR representatives from various companies and organizations and learn more about the opportunities they offer to ag students.
Dr. Aslihan Spaulding: It is hard to say what type of technology will become more critical. However, the data collected from both new and existing technologies have a story, and someone needs to tell it. Big Data and technology in agriculture is becoming more critical. Students need to learn and improve data collection from technology and data analysis and data interpretation skills, and data-driven decision-making. What is the data telling them? What kind of decisions can be made by a farmer or an agribusiness company based on the data? Students need to learn this.
Rob Michitsch Ph.D.: A comprehensive technical knowledge, excellent communication skills, and an ability to be creative and adapt to change.
Rob Michitsch Ph.D.: Everywhere. Soil Science is ingrained into every field, whether soil, agriculture, water, forestry, wildlife, environmental education, engineering, etc.
Rob Michitsch Ph.D.: Highly impactful. We know very little about everything happening in the soil. For example, we can have a million or more bacteria in a gram of dirt, and they're all doing different things! The amount of work in soil science is endless!
Steve Hague: Get as much education as you can. It also is essential that you gain practical experience in the field for two reasons. First, you find out if this is really what you want your career path to look like. Secondly, you need to develop experience points for your resume and build a network of connections. Many jobs are the result of personal recommendations. Internships are a great way to gain this practical experience. If a student is participating in training, they must always go the extra mile. You never know who is watching, and this is how someone can build a reputation that will last a life time. It's essential to be a go-getter.
There are going to be two types of technology that will be critical. One is those technologies related to the essential functions of the soil and crop industries. These include an understanding of precision applications, remote sensing and interpretation, robotics, and genomics. New graduates need to be technically competent in these areas. The other set of technologies relates to how well you can create interpersonal relationships.
Many of us are currently on a learning curve when it comes to remote meetings due to COVID-19. Private communication is likely to accelerate because we are beginning to appreciate many of this system's advantages. Along with being effective in an on-line forum, it will be essential to know how to communicate through social media. This will include etiquette, creativity, and understanding of the opportunities and challenges of evolving platforms.
Steve Hague: New graduates who are competent, reliable, and passionate, will do exceptionally well in this field. They have to be ready to seize opportunities and, in some cases, make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, while they prove their value to employers. It's challenging to place an exact salary number to positions because it varies so much by region, education level, and career opportunities. However, I suspect salary ranges will keep tracking above the average salary for people with college degrees. We are not graduating enough students to fill all the jobs in the soil and crop sciences. If this trend continues, then supply and demand will have an upward push on salary ranges over the next few decades. You can undoubtedly become financially secure in this field.
Marcus Duck: Students and graduates need to highlight their "soft" skills in addition to their horticultural skills. Any examples or experiences they can include to show leadership, communication, organization, etc. are ideal. This is why we encourage our students to become active members and leaders in the MSU Student Horticulture Association to build those soft skills and network with industry leaders.
Marcus Duck: Any horticultural skills they can develop are, of course, ideal. Some other things that would be helpful to get under their belts include:
-Industry association meetings, conferences, networking, and certifications
-State pesticide applicator certification(s)
-Any enhancements to their driver's license, such as a commercial driver's license designation
-Experience with as much equipment operation as possible
Marcus Duck: I'm a little biased on this one, since I have been heavily involved in the irrigation industry over my career. Still, I see the importance of staying up to date on the rapidly advancing irrigation technology and products. Another area is with technology related to controlled environment horticulture (explicitly thinking of advances in lighting*).
Daniel Solis Ph.D.: I don't expect enduring negative impacts, due to COVID19, on our students. Transitioning to online classes, during this time, forced students to adapt fast to new environments, which is a good working skill. Students also had to learn to use alternative new technologies. I believe our students will come out strong and better equipped from this pandemic.
Daniel Solis Ph.D.: Yes, the agricultural industry in the USA is growing and adapting to new market needs. People with good technical and economic skills will always be able to find good jobs in this sector.
Daniel Solis Ph.D.: Absolutely, the application of 'AI' and 'Big Data' will have - and is having - significant impacts on improving the productivity and sustainability of the agricultural industry.