Some of his applicants, who could earn $50,000 or more, don’t bother to show up for their interviews. Or, if they do show, they’re late, presumptuous or lack the hard skills or people skills to make themselves attractive employees.
I learned of Bernie’s predicament in a superbly reported story by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post. But his challenges aren’t unique. While Bernie struggles to find managers and laborers, multinationals like Kellogg’s, Dole, General Mills and other food firms say they’re unable to find 1,000 new scientists they need to hire by next year.
It’s mind-boggling that in a period of stubbornly high unemployment, there are food sector jobs, from factory workers to Ph.D.s, that are going unfilled. I can think of nowhere better positioned to turn this challenge into an opportunity than right here in Ohio.
We already excel at the intersection of agriculture and industry—our farming and related businesses account for more than $100 billion in economic activity and provide more than 900,000 Ohioans with their paychecks. But there’s even greater potential: bigger, better opportunities for our families, farms and communities. We get there by linking our food-space expertise to another of Ohio’s core competencies: teaching and training.
Consider the educational assets we have in place. More than 240,000 4-H and FFA youth are learning and practicing science, engineering, technology and other highly sought work skills, simultaneously being exposed to the values and behaviors that will positively influence their professional, family and community lives. They’re nurtured by thousands of adult advisers, teachers and volunteers who are sharing the knowledge and experience learned from previous generations of mentors. Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and other schools with agricultural curriculum, such as Wilmington College, Ohio State’s Agricultural Technical Institute and the University of Findlay, are delivering first-rate higher education. For example, more than 92 percent of Ohio State ag school grads are working in their chosen profession or obtaining an advanced degree within six months of graduation. And they’re staying here—73 percent are working in Ohio.
As good as we are, there’s room to improve. Ohio can do more to encourage business and job creation, which is why Farm Bureau works on things like tax policy, regulatory considerations, infrastructure improvements and enhancement of natural resources and community amenities. I’d suggest there is room to ramp up our educational system as well.
We begin with some buzz. We need to excite school boards, administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, parents and students about the dependable, well-paying ag sector jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. And perhaps we should discuss these opportunities in earlier grades. Traditional agricultural education will benefit from becoming more mainstreamed, making sure, for example, that “ag” instructors can be credentialed to teach biology or computer science or geography.
Conversely, agricultural education programs should encourage students interested in both career and academic opportunities. And we should consider the ramifications of selective admissions at Ohio State. While academic excellence is a laudable goal, what’s the impact on the traditional land-grant university mission of accessible and affordable education?
From forklift drivers to physicists to farmers, the future in Ohio is bright. Our greatest assets are in great demand. Be it roadside markets to feed our families or fertile fields to feed the world, customers are lining up to pay for what Ohio’s farmers and associated businesses do best. I’m confident our agricultural, industrial, natural and man-made resources will serve us well as long as we remember that the resource most deserving of our attention is human.
John C. “Jack” Fisher is Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president.