Des Moines, IA – Cultivation Corridor Executive Director Brent Willett, along with Iowa State Representative Dave Deyoe and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey spoke as part of an agri-business panel at the July 11 Future Ready Iowa Alliance Membership meeting. Future Ready Iowa is a state initiative that hopes to build Iowa’s talent pipeline to ensure the state has a workforce that is ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow. The invited panelists were there to discuss trends in ag career opportunities in Iowa.
Willett delivered remarks based on the findings of a first-of-its-kind National Student Study conducted by the Cultivation Corridor, which sought to identify trends among college-bound high school students with expressed interest in agbioscience careers.
“One of the key findings of the study showed we are closer than ever to the emergence of a whole new generation of agbioscience experts,” Willett said. “Across the United States, approximately 19%, or one in five, college-bound students were interested in a degree from agbioscience programs. This includes the fields of life science/bioscience, chemistry, advanced manufacturing, food science, agricultural science, agriculture/agronomy, and biorenewable technology.
“What is most promising is the students identified “following their passion” and “career opportunities” as the most critical reasons why they are exploring agbioscience-related degree programs. They are showing a keen interest in an ag career, and see the opportunities within it; now all we have to do is be vigilant in attracting them into the field.”
Willett said it is imperative that new agbioscience careers are nurtured, more so now than ever before.
“By 2050, our planet must support more than 9 billion people. That’s a 30 percent increase over the number of people on earth today,” Willett said. “Consequently, we will need to meet greater production demands for agricultural products such as food, feed, energy and fiber, all with less land. Producing more with less will require new expertise and innovation in the fields of ag and bioscience.”
The student study shows that more than 360,000 students are already interested in agbioscience related careers in Iowa. A higher correlation to interests shown appears to have a connection with participation in high school activities such as FFA, science clubs, history clubs, literary clubs and military organizations such as ROTC.
However, for the students across the country who did not report interest in an agbioscience degree program, Willett says there still may be opportunity to change their viewpoint.
“There is some lack of exposure to the areas of agriculture and life sciences out there. And, perceptions may have been formed that don’t necessarily reflect what’s really going on in these fields,” Willett said. “Having that information is helpful. The study suggests there may be opportunity for perceptions to be shaped about the agricultural and life sciences industry and opportunities among agbioscience degree programs.”
Willet said one of the key themes that came from the panel discussion is that Iowa faces the classic challenge/opportunity scenario pertaining to its future workforce.
“We have some work to do,” Willett said. “The panel noted Iowa has more assets such as rich soil to support major crop production and access to raw materials; however, future career opportunities are less aligned to access to crops in the field. States like Iowa are no longer necessarily a default destination for ag professionals.
“Iowa’s economy, lifestyles and culture has been undergirded by agriculture for 150 years. The revolution in agriculture we are at the precipice of globally, though, means that opportunities in agriculture are more technical and science-based than ever before, and we are competing with states and regions for those jobs and those people we never have had to before.”
The state’s preparedness to deliver a talented workforce in the agriculture and agri-tech sectors will depend on many factors, but as evidenced from the current infrastructure, such as the Future Iowa Ready program and the work being done in the Cultivation Corridor, there are initiatives already in place that are addressing getting Iowa future ready.
“This new workforce is within our reach – the best opportunities in high growth ag careers are here in Iowa,” Willett said. “The Corridor is working to better position the state to grow this audience and convince them that, without a doubt, Iowa is the place to be, and now is the time to be here.”