By Rheba Howard
“We are all here because we believe in the future of agriculture.” These words, spoken by Rob Cooper, the executive director of the National FFA Foundation, mirror the FFA Creed and also defined the purpose of the Pathways to Prosperity Breakfast held at the 85th National FFA Convention and Expo. Hosted by the AgriCouncil of American Business Media and the National FFA Foundation, the Pathways to Prosperity Breakfast discussed the future of agricultural education and, more importantly, the future of careers in agriculture.
A growing world population means more food needs to be produced in order to meet the demand and, in turn, growth for the industry of agriculture. Sponsors, supporters and educators gathered Thursday morning of the convention and expo to hear about a new Harvard study, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. Bill Symonds, director of Pathways to Prosperity, was on hand to speak about the study’s findings. Pathways to Prosperity was designed to look at why America’s youth are not meeting industry standards of career preparedness and why we are falling behind. The study looked at the dropout rate for high school students and those at the collegiate level. Symonds pointed out that most college students do not earn their degree on time and many don’t finish their degree. Emphasizing this, the United States has the highest college dropout rate in the world. Symonds made the point that the United States needs to change the way we think about career success. FFA and agricultural education are uniquely poised to fill this gap and help address this issue.
People today think that the key to success is getting a four-year degree, when in reality there are more opportunities from a two-year degree program said Eric Spell, president of AgCareers.com. Applicants with skills from a two-year college or vocational education programs are in high demand, and high schools are not rising to meet the demands of employers. The biggest demands from employers are skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. To help meet these demands, Symonds said we need to connect employers with students, help teachers develop curriculum, and expose students to the workforce to help see broader career path options. Agricultural education and FFA helps do this.
“We have to improve American education. If we don’t, we hurt the economy in the long run,” Symonds said.
One of the ways that FFA is addressing this issue is through the development of the Agricultural Career Network. The network will allow students to see what kind of jobs and careers are available. By having a profile in the system, students will be able to keep an online record of their awards, skills and achievements and ultimately allow that to feed up to potential future career options.
“The U.S. agriculture economy creates 50,000 jobs. Of that, 55 percent of the agriculture workforce retires in the next five years,” Spell said.
AgCN will show parents, FFA members and agriculture students the different careers that are available and what employers are looking for, Spell said. The network will show real-time demand and help students focus sooner on a career. The demand of quality applicants is high. FFA wants to work with our sponsors to help students meet this demand. Sponsors’ continued support of FFA programs to develop quality leaders helps make agriculture’s future bright.
To see the full report on Pathways to Prosperity please visit here.