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1308 PD: College students can expect a bright future in ag industry with these tips

Published on 29 August 2008

Despite a recent slump in the economy, agricultural students can plan on a “bright future” in the industry, says Eric Spell, president of AgCareers.com. The recruitment website, which started as a newsprint publication 10 years ago, has become the leading online career portal in the agricultural industry. Spell says more than 1,000 employers use the site throughout a year.

Although he considers the website to be diverse in terms of companies, he sees more activity among certain agricultural sectors including crops and agricultural chemistry; grain and other commodities; livestock – mainly pork, poultry and dairy; seeds; precision agriculture; agricultural finance; and farm equipment.

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“We’ve had a 32 percent increase in job listings,” Spell says. From January to July of last year, 10,190 positions were posted. In the same period of 2008, he saw 15,111 job opportunities.

“There may be some companies being hit hard with rising fuel or feed costs,” Spell says. “But if students have a solid agricultural background, they should be able to find plenty of other positions.”

No matter where you are in your college career, Spell has some advice that may help to jumpstart your future.

Spell’s advice for recent and soon-to-be graduates:

Start job-hunting as soon as possible.
If you are graduating in May, start your search this fall. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to find your dream job.

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Do your homework.
Spell says to research the company and to talk to new employees. “There’s enough opportunities out there right now that you don’t have to jump at the first option,” Spell says.

Look at the total package.
Spell believes many young adults only look at the starting salary. He says to consider vacation, time off, insurance, benefits, perks and bonus potential in addition to salary offers.

Don’t be too picky.
For students who have graduated and are having trouble finding a full-time position, Spell says to keep an open mind. He recommends that students accept a temporary or internship position and continue their job search. He says this could lead to new opportunities for graduates and will help them avoid resume employment gaps.

Current and future students can get a leg up on the competition by preparing themselves for life after graduation. In addition to maintaining good grades and being involved in extracurricular activities, students should be “seriously considering” at least one summer internship in their college career.

“The top 20 percent of students have two or three summer internship experiences on their resume,” Spell says. “There’s a growing number of employers who won’t offer a position to a new graduate unless they’ve had at least one summer internship.”

The best way to gain this experience is to start early.

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“It used to be that employers would only focus on rising juniors and seniors,” Spell says. “But employers are beginning to consider freshmen and sophomores.”

He says AgCareers.com has an internship based out of Canada, and this past summer’s most qualified candidate was an incoming freshman.

Internship programs seem to be a win-win situation: Students gain the experience they need to land a future job and companies can get an idea of their future staffs.

“Because of the aging workforce in agriculture, employers are looking at internships as a way to expose their company and their brand to college students,” Spell says.

Spell’s advice for students looking for internships:

Start searching now.
Spell says most of the larger companies want to have their internship positions filled by the first of January. Pay close attention to application deadlines because many are due in October and November.

Go global and get an international experience.
Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada are interested in recruiting North American students, Spell says. He also believes an international experience will make students more marketable to employers.

Get all the facts.
Just like graduates, potential interns need to look at more than just the base salary. Don’t be too quick to turn down a seemingly low-paying position or accept a high-paying position. Make sure to factor in housing, transportation, food and other living costs associated with the experience. Spell says a growing number of companies are willing to fund these expenses or to provide a scholarship stipend at the completion of the internship.

Where to find the dream job
Although AgCareers.com is certainly an extensive source for career and internship positions, students have other search options. Spell says about 600 interns at 15 different companies were surveyed this past summer about their recent and previous internship experiences.

“Of those interns, 14 percent indicated that they found their current position through a web source,” he says.

Another popular online source for agricultural internships is the National Dairy Shrine (www.dairyshrine.org/internships). For students looking for a broader range of internships, check out the following sites: www.internshipprograms.com, www.internships.com and www.internjobs.com.

Students can also utilize their universities. Spell encourages prospective interns and employees to speak with advisers and career services counselors at their colleges. Students may also be able to access a university’s online internship or career directory. They also have the option to go straight to the source – the company itself. Many employers will list job openings on websites and have online applications. Even if a specific opportunity is not listed or publicized, it never hurts to ask.

Overall, Spell believes the future is bright for agricultural students.

“With the global demand for food and energy, there are some neat and plentiful opportunities for students today,” he says. PD

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