The future of agriculture rests in the ability to adapt to new and evolving technologies to move the industry forward and finding workers willing to evolve with it.
Many human tasks will eventually be replaced by computerized technologies. How much of the workforce will be displaced is yet to be seen. According to one report published in 2013 by Oxford University’s Oxford Martin Program on Technology and Employment, 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk from automation. A PricewaterhouseCoopers March 2017 report suggests 38% of U.S. jobs are in jeopardy to automation.
A 2015 USDA report found that an estimated 57,900 college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs will be needed annually to fill jobs in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields. Currently, the U.S. is averaging 35,400 graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in ag-related fields annually, enough to fill only 64% of the available positions.
Nearly half of the jobs available are projected to be in management and business, while 27% will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Another 15% will be in food and biomaterials production, with the remaining 12% in the fields of education, communication, and governmental services.
In the next five years, the report predicts strong employment markets for e-commerce managers and marketing agents, agricultural science educators, crop advisors, and pest control specialists. In STEM fields, job opportunities will be strongest for food and plant scientists, specialists in sustainable biomaterials and precision agriculture, and water resources scientists and engineers. The top 50 U.S. ag schools and colleges offer anywhere from four to 22 agricultural majors. Many universities with strong agricultural programs offer courses in agricultural technology although the number and type of courses differ significantly. U.S. land grant universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in sustainable agriculture as well as graduate programs in agricultural engineering. However, quite often, what students learn in the classroom does not fully equip them for the marketplace.
A report by the World Economic Forum predicts that five years from now, over a third of the skills considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. According to the report, when asked what skill sets are critically important for their industry by 2020, survey respondents consistently named the ability to analyze data and to market innovative products and services to clients and consumers. In general, there will be a higher demand for strong interpersonal and collaborative skills such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and the ability to teach others.
In the coming decades, artificial intelligence, robots, automated machines, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and many others will undoubtedly replace and reshape much of our daily work. However, at the same time new jobs we cannot even imagine today will be created. The optimist may see all the new job opportunities and argue that they far outweigh the job losses. Of course, it is easy to support this view with countless examples of jobs that exist today that no one even imagined 100 years ago (think the long forgotten jobs of stage coach builders, blacksmiths, switchboard operators, and typesetters). Many believe that the world is facing another major industrial revolution that will bring unprecedented change to the global labor force’s job descriptions.
Recognizing and understanding not only the industry’s workforce needs and challenges, as well as that of your own company, will be crucial in successfully navigating the rapidly evolving marketplace.