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Agriculture industry faces talent crisis

Agriculture needs to attract top talent to ramp up future food production

More food will need to be produced in the next 40 years than what has been produced in the last 10,000 years. The question is whether those in the agricultural industry are attracting the top talent needed to meet the purpose of producing that food.

Chris Policinski, president and chief executive officer of Land O'Lakes, shared with attendees at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogues that there is a "talent crisis" of attracting the top talent needed to drive the necessary innovation to fulfill the noble purpose of feeding the world.

Policinski shared that 20% of the workforce is 55 and older and by 2020, that percent will increase to 25%. In agriculture, 75% of all farmers are over 50 in 2012. There aren't enough top talented innovators coming to our farms or the industries that farmers rely on. He added 60,000 skilled jobs in agriculture are needed each year, but currently universities are only graduating 61% of the numbers needed to fill those jobs.

"We have a talent crisis and the workforce is aging. My belief of why this is happening is because we're not telling our story," Policinski said.

Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer, echoed similar thoughts on the importance of having a more skilled workforce. And an area where more focus is needed is women in science, where only 25-30% of U.S. STEM careers are filled by women. 

Fraley participated in a panel discussion on how to empower women and girls through STEM education. Monsanto acquired Climate Corp and in the Silicon Valley. Fraley said data science engineers are offered the opportunity to come and work for them and figure out how to feed the world and save the environment. "There is a real call for technology that can save the world. Improvements that can be made for agriculture are key to enhancing food security and that is a powerful calling for an occupation of the future," he said.

Real-life applications

Land O'Lakes, Inc. has created the Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security fellowship in 2014 to engage future leaders in the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture in the coming decades. This year they selected 10 United States college sophomores, each committed to finding innovative and practical solutions to world hunger, to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that through a unique fellowship.

"Ag is the greatest growth industry of our era and represents the most dynamic career opportunity for this generation," said Policinski.

Emerging Leaders work closely with their university professors, delving into challenging assignments designed to spur their thinking about food security issues and to educate others. They also include summer work in key Land O'Lakes locations, a trip to Africa to visit smallholder farmers and spending time in Washington D.C. with policymakers and regulators.

Monsanto is also partnering with Google and Starbucks to raise awareness about STEM. The companies will be supporting a STEM awareness day in the spring. Monsanto's headquarters will be opening its doors to high school student groups from area organizations like Girl Scouts and AIM High for career discussions with women science leaders, as well as a hands-on interactive tour complete with science experiments, panels and take home resources.

Right messaging
Michiel Bakker, director of global food services for Google, said that it is known that 95% of the factors driving women is social encouragement, self-perception, academic exposure and career perception, with the largest one being social encouragement at home and within their own social circle. Bakker said it's important to figure out ways to connect with the future generation in their own environment.

Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds noted businesses and academia need to work together to solve STEM for the future and collaboration is key. Reynolds has been part of the STEM Ag and Food Council and in Iowa has helped roll out new science-based experiences for women to become engaged and excited in sciences.

The STEM Ag and Food Council has also launched a new website, feednourishthrive.org, which offers students, parents and teachers insight into the exciting, rewarding and well-paying jobs that exist in agriculture today. Sherri Brown, vice president of science strategy for Monsanto, said it is a call to action in an effort to get "all hands on deck to bring our best and brightest."

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