Examining the Role Postsecondary Education Plays in the Ag Workforce

Agricultural employees hail from a variety of educational levels and college majors. A vital part of the talent pipeline is education in agriculture, food, natural resources and biotechnology. AgCareers.com examined trends in U.S. postsecondary enrollment and educational attainment for the agricultural industry in the 2020 AgCareers.com Education & Enrollment Report.

In reviewing recent consecutive years’ data from a variety of sources.* Data showed a decrease in overall postsecondary enrollment, and likewise, a decline in agriculture-specific enrollment from 2017 to 2019. Even though ag-related postsecondary enrollment was down, there were an increase in ag degrees awarded.

The United States has a critical workforce challenge—the skills gap between employers’ wants and needs, and what employees can accomplish. Agricultural employers reported in the 2020-21 Agribusiness HR Review  that the most significant factor influencing their workforce planning was the need for different skills, and they attributed the top reason for recruiting difficulty to applicants’ lack of required skills.

AgCareers.com jobs and client data report the largest demand for bachelor’s degrees, followed by high school diplomas. However, associate’s degrees and certifications are next in-demand. Prior reports noted the particularly powerful need for these degree levels as well.

Looking at career and technical education (CTE) specifically, the agriculture, food and natural resources cluster has robust enrollment in secondary schools; however, participation drops significantly in postsecondary enrollment. Ag-related CTE postsecondary programs consistently enrolled more males.

This changes for bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate programs when we examine the Food and Agricultural Education Information System (FAEIS) data for academic areas in the AgCareers.com core industry types, where 60% of enrollees were female. Ethnicity data is also available for 4-year-plus institutions, which shows non-white students enrolled in ag-related disciplines increased from 31% in 2017 to 35% in 2019; the largest growth was among Hispanics.

Agribusinesses that AgCareers.com surveyed recently expect to hire college graduates mostly for production and sales roles. Sales/retail careers were the top career type of jobs posted on AgCareers.com. Looking at industry segments, our site saw the highest number of positions posted in the plant and soil sciences, seed, and biotechnology. This is followed by chemical, pesticide and fertilizer and equipment, manufacturing and technical. Conversely, the top ag-related academic degrees over the past three years in the U.S. were in animal sciences, followed by agricultural economics/business/management and food and nutrition. AgCareers.com consistently receives the most applications from candidates with an agricultural business degree.

It’s critical for our industry to work together enticing students to explore educational options in agriculture, food, natural resources, and biotechnology, especially beyond high school into postsecondary institutions. Discover more details in the full 2020 AgCareers.com Education & Enrollment Report available to download here. [at www.AgCareers.com, under ‘Market Research’]

*Data sources:  AgCareers.com 2020 U.S. Job Report, 2020-21 U.S. Agribusiness HR Review, Food and Agricultural Education Information System (FAEIS), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Perkins Collaborative Resource Network, and National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Find details and links in the full report.


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