A look at career opportunities in agriculture and life sciences, forestry and environmental sciences, and veterinary medicine. (Video by Steve Doyle & Sharon Katz)

Employment Outlook to 2020

It's Good, but Students Need Outside Experience to Succeed

By Keith Robinson - Published November 6, 2015

Marcos Fernandez wants to make sure Purdue University College of Agriculture graduates land many of the tens of thousands of jobs expected to open each year nationwide in agriculture and related occupations over the next several years.

The associate dean and director of academic programs believes that both the college and students need to do their part to make that happen.

"We can't rest on our laurels," Fernandez says, noting that the college annually has a high placement rate for its graduates and this year was ranked fifth-best agricultural college in the world by Quacquarelli Symonds, a British company that specializes in information about higher education and careers. "We need to continue to be one of the institutions that employers come to for graduates to hire."

Highly Skilled Work Force Needed

Employment Opportunities pie chartU.S. Department of Agriculture

An employment outlook the college produced this year with grant support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture concludes that about 58,000 jobs will become available each year in professions involving food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment through 2020.

The jobs reflect a need for a highly skilled work force to support food, agriculture and national resources industries amid projections of a world population that is expected to grow from 7 billion people today to 9 billion by 2050.

The report projects that 46 percent of the estimated new job opportunities will be in management and business. Twenty-seven percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM areas. Jobs in food and biomaterials production will comprise 15 percent, and 12 percent of the openings will be in education, communication and governmental services.

While the college continually reviews its academic programs to provide students with an education that meets the needs of agriculture and related professions, Fernandez is emphatic that much of the responsibility for students' success rests with the students themselves. He says they are told "from Day 1" as freshmen that they are expected to be involved in "transformational experiences" such as internships, externships—"shadowing" a professional—research and student clubs during their college career to get experience that employers seek in graduates.

Internship as a Journey

Agricultural economics student Jacquelyn Brown inspects a petri dishAgricultural economics student Jacquelyn Brown spent last summer working as a food security intern for Land O’Lakes. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

Jacquelyn Brown, a junior agricultural economics major from Medford, Oregon, understood that message and worked as a food security intern last summer in the Land O'Lakes Emerging Leaders program. Her internship took her far from the company's headquarters in Arden Hills, Minnesota. She had learning experiences under the tutelage of CEOs, scientists and policymakers during trips to Ohio; Washington, D.C.; and Africa.

"The biggest thing for me was that I learned there are many different ways you can pursue a career in agriculture," she says.

An internship can help students discover what they are passionate about or might not want to do as a career. "The best way to figure out what you want to do is to try it for a while," says Brown, who plans to seek another internship next summer.

Good Grades Aren't Enough

College leadership feels so strongly about the benefits of experience outside the classroom that they started a program called College of Agriculture Transformational Experiences, or CATE, that provides students myriad ways to improve their skills in leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and cultural issues, among others. Fernandez points out that a goal in the college's strategic plan is for all students—100 percent of enrollment—to get such experience while at Purdue.

Despite the positive outlook for jobs, Fernandez says competition for them will be tough. To help students rise to the top, he encourages them to take advantage of the many co-curricular educational and development opportunities that make Purdue one of the leading institutions in the world for undergraduate students.

"Achieving only good grades could be seen as a lost opportunity."

Related Link

Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment, United States, 2015–2020