Midway through my senior year at Hugoton High School, I still hadn’t been able to answer the seemingly always-present question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For years, I avoided it like the plague.
My interests and passions were across the board; I thought it would be nearly impossible to find a career that would encompass them all. Then I attended an FFA dairy food quality contest, where I witnessed the field that could do just that: agricultural education.
As I watched the agriculture teachers from across the region finalize the agenda for the day, I realized just how diverse the group was. One had an archive-like knowledge of animals, one had a passion for horticulture, one loved teaching their students about business principles, one was a phenomenal welder, another had perfected their food science curriculum … the list went on. These educators were experts in their craft, but also jacks of all trades. The experience level of the group ranged from fresh out of college to just a year away from retirement, yet they all shared the same love and passion for the agriculture industry.
At that moment, I decided agricultural education would be the career for me, because it would allow me to inspire others to consider the full breadth of agricultural career possibilities after high school.
Agriculture teachers cover a variety of subjects, all of which fall into one of these eight areas, known as pathways in the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources cluster of the Kansas Career Sunflower:
- Animal Science
- Biotechnology in Agriculture
- Comprehensive Agricultural Science
- Agribusiness Systems
- Food Products and Processing Systems
- Natural Resources and Environmental Services
- Plant Systems
- Power, Structural and Technical Systems
With about one in five careers directly related to agriculture, it is not uncommon for jobs to be in multiple pathways or for people to work alongside others in seemingly different pathways. A horticulturist could work with someone in marketing to promote a new variety. Plant or animal geneticists may work directly with salespeople to ensure producers are getting the best stock or seeds. The possibilities truly are endless.
With the world population on track to be around 10 billion by 2050, jobs in agriculture — especially those focused on sustainability — are not going anywhere. That’s a lot of mouths to feed!
Some agricultural jobs require on-the-job training:
- Assists in proper and ethical animal care in food production facilities or veterinary clinics
- Ensures animals’ needs are being met and they’re healthy
- Executes feed and medication plans
- Completes daily tasks related to animal or crop production
- Operates machinery or conducts repairs or preventive maintenance
Administrative Assistant (for an agricultural company or organization)
- Supports the planning and coordination of activities
- Attends meetings and records information
- Communicates with stakeholders, businesses and individuals
- Manages social media platforms to achieve a professional presence
Others call for technical degrees:
- Welds equipment, machines or building frameworks
- Reads layouts or blueprints
- Conducts maintenance or repair
- Troubleshoots or runs diagnostics on equipment and projects
- Repairs agricultural or lawn and garden equipment
- Performs preventive maintenance
- Operates a variety of tools and machines
- Communicates with customers about service needs and requirements
- Sells feed, animal health products, seed, equipment, technology or other useful tools, either directly to producers or to retailers
- Provides accurate information about the items they’re selling
- Develops sales goals and plans
- Maintains market share
- Applies pesticides and fertilizer to fields
- Handles and distributes chemicals
- Organizes and coordinates timely application
And some require a bachelor’s degree or higher:
Animal or Plant Geneticist
- Researches desirable characteristics in a species
- Finds the best traits to enhance yield, maturity or market weight
- Understands disease causation and effect on plants or animals
- Researches and develops new or improved ways of food processing
- Tests food for pathogens or nutritional content
- Maintains food product quality standards
- Offers educational opportunities to community members
- Develops youth educational programs
- Works as a liaison for producers and businesses
- Stays aware of opportunities for community members of all ages
- Plans and executes research trials or projects with crops
- Evaluates crop tolerance to drought or pests
- Understands the effects of improper irrigation, soil conditions or weather
- Develops plans to increase crop yield or production
- Researches and prepares informational or persuasive blogs, posts or news articles
- Conducts interviews
- Communicates with employers, businesses or workers to gather accurate and complete information
Just like the educators I observed at that competition, each student has unique talents, skills and backgrounds that guide their choices and goals going into the workforce. My advice to students and parents is to seek some hands-on experience to help narrow down the options. Job shadowing, internships and other learning experiences will help them discover what they do and don’t like to do, which should help them visualize the career they want when they finish their schooling.
So instead of pressuring students to answer the dreaded “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, let’s encourage them to explore their passions, the problems they want to solve and the activities they thoroughly enjoy. Shifting your mindset to such outcomes will encourage students to consider personal achievement, rather than title, when searching for a job that will satisfy them for years to come.