The agricultural industry has taken a pummeling the past few years, with bad weather this spring compounding an ongoing trade war.
At the annual Farm Science Review outside Columbus, organizers staged their first ever career fair. They’re aiming to reassure young people about the future of the industry and offer some direction as they prepare for the job market.
At the south end of the grounds, there’s a large white tent, flaps billowing in the breeze. Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Science hosts an annual luncheon here with the governor, and Farm Science Review manager Nick Zachrich explains part of their thinking in setting up a career fair: Why not?
“We use this tent and we have it for two more days,” Zachrich says. “So we wanted to utilize this tent and this space, and one of those ideas was to have career fair.”
He explains 600 of the companies attending the fair are looking for qualified workers; 20 of them set up booths this year, and Zachrich hopes to see that figure grow in the future.
The Farm Science Review offers a kind of critical mass with more than 100,000 visitors each year. Zachrich says potential employers have a better shot of finding people with agriculture-specific experience or training.
“We know that there’s going to be a deficit of people qualified to work in agricultural industry that are specifically trained in agriculture, so a lot of companies are hiring engineers that are not specifically trained in agricultural engineering, they’re maybe mechanical engineers or otherwise,” he says.
What’s more, Zachrich wants young people who are just starting out or still planning their career path to see those opportunities in the field.
“A lot of high school students now that are in agricultural education programs may not necessarily be directly from the farm, but they need to know that there are opportunities,” Zachrich says. “And even the students that do come from a family farm, need to know there are other opportunities than just going back to the family farm. In many cases the farming operation is not set up for another family income.”
Jill Adelsberger, who works for ag-giant Cargill, likes that the fair gives them a chance to engage with younger students. But she was pleased to see some older job seekers as well.
“It’s been about 50-50, and then I’ve actually been surprised that we’ve had a couple that are searching for jobs, maybe been out of school for 10 years, and good talent that is looking,” Adelsberger says. “So this is the perfect place, and then the career fair made it even easier, so so far it’s been kind of a nice mix.”
Two other exhibitors, meanwhile, lamented the shortage of qualified service technicians who can keep large farming equipment running smoothly.
Sara Deakin, an Ohio State junior planning to go into agriculture-science education, was among a group of college students on their way out of the fair. She says they picked up some new information and she was leaving feeling optimistic.
“Agriculture is a growing industry,” Deakin said. “It’s going to continue to grow because we’ve got to continue to feed the world.”
Her friends are both seniors. Garrett Hoffman wants to be a large animal veterinarian and Jack Cochran wants to go into high-tech crop management. Cochran echoed Deakin’s optimism, but Hoffman acknowledged how hard the last few years have been.
“It’s going to evolve with the time,” Cochran said. “So as time progresses, you’re definitely going to see a lot more unique ways of interpreting agriculture and stuff like that.”
“You can only go up from the bottom,” Hoffman added. “So it’s only going to get better.”