Agriculture business leaders were called to action at the Pathways to Prosperity Breakfast this morning.
Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Pathways to Prosperity Project Director Dr. William Symonds, AgCareers.com President Eric Spell and National FFA Organization CEO Dr. Dwight Armstrong spoke to the group about how they can help students reach career success.
Symonds said the way we think about education and career development in young adults needs to change. Business leaders have an important role in preparing students to be successful in the work place.
In February 2011, the Pathways to Prosperity Project released a report, “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Adults for the 21st Century,” which explained why the U.S. is not producing students ready for the workplace. The report promoted an educational system focused on preparing students for their future through various educational pathways and connections with potential employers.
“We’re taking too narrow of an approach,” Symonds said.
Our society places great pressure on students to pursue four-year degrees while that’s not what the market demands, Symonds said.
Only 33 percent of jobs require a 4-year degree, 30 percent require less than four years of higher education and 36 percent require only a high school diploma, he said.
Symonds said students are more aware of careers that require four or more years of education than jobs that don’t require as much education. However, demand for students with skill sets, such as welding, is great.
Symonds said we need to stop labeling students who don’t attend a 4-year college as failures and start valuing other places of higher education, such as community colleges and vocational schools.
“We need to emphasize other pathways to success,” Symonds said.
Students need to get out of the school room and into the work place to gain experiences, Symonds said. Businesses can offer these experiences through job shadowing, apprenticeships and internships.
Students learn more with a real-life approach rather than just academic, Symonds said.
“Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the value of this in our young people,” Symonds said.
When the majority of students lived on farms, they gained a skill set at home while the school systems focused on academics. Symonds said because the majority of students do not live on farms many have lost skill sets and the school systems have remained the same. Our society overemphasizes academics and underemphasizes skill sets.
Eric Spell, president of AgCareers.com, said there is a growing need for students interested in the agriculture industry. There are currently 23 million people employed by agriculture, and five percent, or approximately 1 million people, plan to retire within the next five years, according to Spell.
The future holds many opportunities for agriculture students, and students should start preparing now.
“Many young people have no idea of the opportunities that are out there,” Symonds said.
The Agricultural Career Network, AgCN, can be used by businesses and students to improve the future of agriculture through working together toward career success.
Courtney Leeper is a sophomore Science and Agricultural Journalism major at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Originally from Trenton, Mo., Courtney was a member of the Trenton FFA Chapter.