Return on education investmentBy Dana Melcher, Corridor Communications Intern

Last week, approximately 2,650 students flocked to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Day to check out the 277 companies in attendance.

CALS Career Day, the largest event of its kind in the country, has seen participation grow 57% in the past four years – a result of the increase in opportunities within the ag industry.

According to a report released this spring by the USDA, between 2015 and 2020 there are expected to be 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in the areas of food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. An average of 35,400 annual graduates with expertise in these areas is expected to fill only 61% of the openings.

“The number of students enrolled in post-secondary agriculture programs will not meet the needs of this industry. Thus the supply and demand for talent strongly favors the student,” said Mike Gaul, career services director of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, combined with the increasing number of Baby Boomers about to exit the workforce creates a promising career in agriculture for college graduates.

“Not only do these factors create numerous opportunities for students in agriculture, but also allows for them to climb ‘corporate ladders’ faster than any previous generation,” said Gaul.

Dillon Luhman, a seed advisor for Beck’s Hybrids and recent ISU graduate with a degree in agronomy, is one example of many who have found success in the ag industry. “The career opportunities are available, the jobs are rewarding, the pay is very competitive, and the choices are endless,” said Luhman.

The industry is changing and rapidly growing, creating a strong demand for qualified candidates who come from all walks of life, not just a farming background.

“The industry is made up of very bright and talented men and women who range in careers from biotechnology and plant breeding, to crop input sales, and even insurance, bankers and other business roles,” said Luhman.

A career in ag is promising for current students and recent graduates because a young workforce is essential in addressing the priorities of food security, sustainable energy and environmental quality.

“Given the last eight years have been some of the most challenging in the history of this country for college graduates, opportunities have remained strong in agriculture,” said Gaul. “People are looking for a return on their investment in a college education and many have noticed this industry readily provides it.”