November 15, 2020
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.
Arizona State University
University of Delaware
U.S. Department of Agriculture
University of California, Davis
Middle Tennessee State University
Utah State University
North Dakota State University
NC State University
University of Idaho
University of Maryland Extension - Talbot County
Pennsylvania State University
Arkansas State University
University of Arkansas
Mark Manfredo Ph.D.: I continually hear from industry partners that they are looking for graduates with strong written and verbal communication skills, solid quantitative and critical thinking skills, the ability to work well with others and adapt, curiosity, and work ethic. Many of the firms I engage with work in the food and agribusiness industry are also looking for students with familiarity with and appreciation for the uniqueness and complexities of the food and agribusiness industry and a desire to work in the industry.
Mark Manfredo Ph.D.: I have not observed or heard of any geographical area that is at a particular advantage right now in terms of "a particularly good place in the United States for graduates to find work," at least in the area of food and agribusiness, in which I teach and conduct research. It just depends on where a company and its facilities are located and where their given needs are. I do think recent graduates should be flexible, in terms of location, as that opens up more doors.
Mark Manfredo Ph.D.: It will be huge. Some of the most critical topics in food and agribusiness today are big data collection and analysis, IoT, robotics, and automation. Rapid technology innovation and adoption is being seen at all levels of the food value chain - from farm to consumer. There are too many compelling examples to delineate here. Still, there is a considerable financial investment in these technologies occurring now, and I anticipate this to continue well into the future.
Jules Bruck Ph.D.: In addition to the epidemic, 2020 highlighted inequality. A future landscape architecture trend will be building equitable green spaces - including parks and urban green spaces in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas that have long lacked green spaces. A strong focus on resilience is a trend I see in the future as we face unprecedented environmental, social, and economic challenges. How will communities activate vacancies to reenergize areas of their towns hit hardest with pandemic-forced closures? How will communities weather intensified storms and sea-level rise? Specific to the pandemic is rethinking where we practice landscape architecture. Individuals are successfully working at home, and studios may continue using shared working spaces for conference rooms and shared resources, eliminating the need to bring everyone back to the office.
Jules Bruck Ph.D.: Using technology to communicate with clients and community members will be even more essential in the area in the next 3-5 years. Finding equitable ways for all citizens voices to be heard may require more effectively using social media or citizen science projects to allow fluid sharing of opinions and observations. Building Information Modeling (BIM) will be essential and prevalent in the coming years as firms overcome adoption obstacles, and landscape architecture programs bring it into their teaching portfolio.
Jules Bruck Ph.D.: There will be an increase in the market for graduates in landscape architecture in the next five years. LAs will be working to make cities more resilient to climate change impacts and make them more friendly to alternative transportation forms and more equitable by design. Coastal cities face challenges that require LAs to work closely with researchers and other fields to develop innovative solutions. Future infrastructure work at the scale much needed in the U.S. will require LAs on project teams to provide functional and ecologically sound designs. Our future is bright!
Melissa Drummond: USDA's Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area includes four agencies - the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Risk Management Agency, and FPAC Business Center. These agencies offer programs that help farmers manage risk, get access to capital, recover from natural disasters, and conserve natural resources. FSA, NRCS, and RMA deliver those farm programs, often through one-on-one assistance with farmers. The Business Center supports the operations for those agencies.
We're looking for highly motivated individuals who are ready to serve our nation's farmers and ranchers. We have multiple job openings, so the skills will vary based on the position an individual is applying for. A few examples of the skills we're looking for include, individuals with an agricultural background, individuals who have finance, budget, business administration, human resources, economics, accounting, banking, and/or credit experience, experts in highly-technical or scientific fields such as biology, environmental science, physical and earth science, plant, animal, soil, and geospatial sciences, professionals involved in the many aspects of conservation on working lands, including efforts to improve soil health, water and air quality, and wildlife habitat, or those interested in research, technical writing, and management.
FPAC also offers different pathway opportunities for students and recent graduates to work in the agricultural, science, technology, math, environmental, and management fields through internships and fellowships. Please visit https://www.fpacbc.usda.gov/careers/students-and-graduates/index.html to see the full list of programs available for students and recent graduates.
Melissa Drummond: FPAC has work opportunities all around the country. Our agencies are headquartered in Washington, D.C., and we have nearly 23,000 employees across 3,100 offices nationwide. Many of these offices include our county service centers, where we provide one-on-one service to farmers. Other offices include our state and regional offices as well as our technical centers. To see all the opportunities we have available please visit: https://www.fpacbc.usda.gov/careers/.
Amanda Crump Ph.D.: This is best asked of an employer. We aim to have our students complete an international internship or an internship with an international agricultural development group. If students do have some experience (even within a club), that shows that they have learned how to manage programs and be accountable to others. If students speak a few languages, this is a bonus. You might visit this link: Agriculture
Amanda Crump Ph.D.: I am a proponent of gap years. Working internationally requires students to think about their place in the world and the implications of working abroad on marginalized people. This requires humility and maturity. Sometimes, that comes with taking some time away from school. Sometimes, students get that in school. It's highly dependent on the student.
Amanda Crump Ph.D.: This entirely depends on the sector. I can see the potential for off-grid innovations in several agricultural sectors, whether postharvest cooling, pest detection, better training modalities, and better ways to get nutritious foods. We need some creative graduates who can also understand that technologies aren't always built equitably. Those technologies can be adjusted and used by everyone, regardless of access to education, electricity, computers, etc.
Dr. Justin Gardner Ph.D.: Justin.Gardner@mtsu.edu not in UserInfo.
Dr. Justin Gardner Ph.D.: Justin.Gardner@mtsu.edu not in UserInfo.
Dr. Justin Gardner Ph.D.: Justin.Gardner@mtsu.edu not in UserInfo.
Brian Warnick Ph.D.: There are a wide variety of options for students completing degrees in agriculture and the related sciences. These options range from positions with sizeable agricultural production and processing corporations to small, local firms and opportunities in government agencies and entrepreneurial ventures. The variety of options allows students to select opportunities that best meet their career objectives.
Brian Warnick Ph.D.: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues." (Source: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/agricultural-and-food-scientists.htm ). Even with the current pandemic situation, graduates in these fields have been able to secure job opportunities. An early survey of 2020 graduates from the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Utah State University indicates higher than 80% placement. Several graduates pursue continued education with combined job placement and continuing education rate of more than 92%.
Brian Warnick Ph.D.: Our graduates are placed in a wide variety of small firms, larger corporations, government agencies, and family farms and ranches. We encourage our students to engage in multiple internships and other experiential opportunities to determine which employment options best fit their interests, aptitudes, and educational backgrounds.
David Buchanan Ph.D.: Graduates certainly need technical skills that are consistent with the needs of the career they plan to follow. However, softer skills are what employers continually ask about. Included would be the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to work in teams to achieve common goals, willingness to be a self-starter who follows recognized schedules and meets deadlines, and the ability to adapt to new situations and work environments.
David Buchanan Ph.D.: There are many good locations, and they vary among the different careers in agriculture, food systems, and natural resources. For example, many states have large production agriculture farms and ranches, and many careers need to be close by the location of the production. This is also true for the food processing industry, and for careers that pertain to enhancing our natural resources as well as companies that manage the business of these fields.
David Buchanan Ph.D.: Technology has already had a tremendous impact on agriculture, food systems, and natural resources, and I believe that this will grow rapidly in the future. "Big data" to help make the best decisions, smart equipment that performs tasks more efficiently, and the ability to target the use of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals are only a few of the ways that technology is going to change the face of what we do.
NC State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Sara Lane: I don't expect an enduring impact from the coronavirus on new graduates in agriculture. While an economic downturn could certainly have an effect on new graduates, the hiring market for entry-level talent in agriculture is somewhat insulated because of the need to replace a wave of retirees with new talent. While it might be more difficult for new graduates to find jobs in the short term, I expect hiring to return to normal levels quickly.
Sara Lane: The Midwest generally has the most agricultural jobs available to new graduates, thanks to the prevalence of agriculture in the region. In addition, depending on the new graduate's specific field, there may be other areas with lots of jobs available. For example, the Research Triangle in North Carolina is a hotspot for biotechnology jobs in agriculture.
Sara Lane: Many people aren't aware of the advanced technology being used and developed in the modern agricultural industry. New graduates should be adept at understanding and implementing new technologies, particularly in regard to the use of big data. In addition, they should have the skills to learn and utilize new technologies as they're created in the industry.
Mike Thornton Ph.D.: Stay curious! The average career is about 40 years long, so you only get 40 chances to try something new or learn a new skill, take advantage of that to expand your knowledge and expertise set every year.
Mike Thornton Ph.D.: Remote sensing and machine learning seem to be pushing agriculture in new directions. Those technologies are critical if we are going to meet the growing demand for food while minimizing the environmental impact of food production.
Mike Thornton Ph.D.: Yes, I think so, at least in terms of the push to take advantage of technology to do more things remotely. The key will be finding a way to do that while still enabling collaboration with colleagues that promotes multidisciplinary approaches to solving problems.
Shannon Dill: Throughout the pandemic, agriculture has been considered a substantial business. Farms, suppliers, processors, and support industries continued operating during this challenging time to keep the food and fiber system running. Those graduates involved in agricultural careers were more than likely less affected than some in other industries. Technology, research, and farm operations continued or pivoted to meet the market demand's new requirements. Additionally, there was an emphasis on supporting farms through food distribution programs, grant projects, and support programs.
Shannon Dill: I don't think I can highlight a particular area. Agriculture can be very regional, and parts of the country are known for producing certain products. There is agriculture research, education, and support nationwide at universities, USDA, and private industries. Depending on the type of agriculture and work of interest, there would be regions that offer more opportunities.
Shannon Dill: Agriculture is highly technical and needs a skilled workforce to operate equipment, research, and production. The use of GIS and data management will only increase as farms look for ways to increase production to feed a growing population.
John Kaminski Ph.D.: It depends on what area of study they are interested in. For our turf students, I usually tell them to learn more by working with a good mentor. Even after earning your education, there is always more to learn, and they need to be patient to acquire as much new knowledge as possible to advance in their profession. For general plant science students, I would advise them to check out many different areas within the plant sciences. This could be anything from organic farming, cannabis production, and other emerging fields in plant science.
John Kaminski Ph.D.: Technology continues to evolve in the field of plant science. This could come from the development of new equipment in the area that makes managing plants better or easier. There are also new technologies being adopted by golf courses, vineyards, and other farming operations, using unique camera technology (e.g., NDVI, thermal imaging) attached to drones to help them monitor the health of their crops. Students graduating now must understand the basics of plant science, but also must have a good handle on computer systems, GPS technology, and other advancing technology to help keep them at the cutting edge of this advancement.
John Kaminski Ph.D.: There is no doubt that the pandemic will impact all of us, including graduates. Many people in the plant science field were considered essential employees and needed to work through the entire shutdown to maintain plants that don't stop growing during a pandemic. This included nurseries and golf courses, as well as production operations that produce food. I think that the green industry's impact shows that our graduates are essential, and that they will have many opportunities in the field of plant science as their career progresses.
Jerica J. J. Rich Ph.D. Dr. David Newman: The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the United States economy; how long the impact will last cannot be answered. The effect on graduates cannot be answered at this time either.
Jerica J. J. Rich Ph.D. Dr. David Newman: Graduates in our discipline work in the food and agriculture industry; therefore, all states' work opportunities are abundant. Our students gain expertise in a wide array of career specializations, including veterinary, food safety, plant operation, live animal production, etc.
Jerica J. J. Rich Ph.D. Dr. David Newman: As mentioned, the coronavirus pandemic changes our day-to-day habits, favoring electronic/remote modes of attaining information, purchasing strategies, etc. I envision technology (in the form of virtual meetings/consultation, informational videos, distant learning, etc.) that will come to the forefront in many different animal science areas/jobs in the next five years.
One area of increased focus in technology is in the place of meat processing. During the pandemic, meat processors were extremely limited because of coronavirus's impact on their workforce health. As a result, there were significant impacts throughout the food/meat supply chain, and now, many experts in our field are focusing on improved technology to limit future effects.
John Anderson: This is a fantastic time to be entering the job market. In the agribusiness field, graduates should still be able to find excellent opportunities, even in 2020. Agricultural firms represented many essential operations during the COVID pandemic and continued to conduct business while many other sectors were shut down. The epidemic has dramatically demonstrated the importance of food production and distribution systems. Several rigidities and vulnerabilities in these supply chains were also identified during the stress of the pandemic. Well-trained agribusiness professionals will be needed to capitalize on the opportunities and manage the challenges involved in keeping the world fed through all kinds of circumstances -- even a pandemic.