job fair at Iowa State University

Callie Greiner, a senior from Keota, Iowa, talks to Nathan Wheeler and Dylan DeJong of Vermeer Manufacturing during a job fair at Iowa State University.

Employment opportunities appear to remain plentiful in agriculture.

Mike Gaul, director of career services for Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, says ag school graduates remain in high demand.

“We have unemployment rates that are near a record low, and the economy has added jobs for 100 months in a row,” he says. “Despite the low commodity prices, the ag job market remains very strong.”

Gaul says with the low unemployment rate, employers are having to become more flexible when it comes to hiring practices. He says while students with an ag background are very much in demand, employers have become more open-minded in their hiring.

Gaul says a record number of employers were at ISU’s fall career day.

“We had 277 companies in the fall, and 101 at our spring career day,” he says. “We can’t get any more into the Memorial Union, so we are very pleased with the turnouts we have been getting.”

He says some companies are pulling back on internship budgets due to the down economy, but adds most internships that are available are paid positions for students.

While college graduates are in demand, there may be a great demand for entry-level workers, especially in the livestock industry. Karen Hoare, director of producer learning and development with the National Pork Board, says pork operations struggle to find employees.

“It limits expansion options for many producers,” she says. “We can find people for the leadership positions, but finding entry-level workers is very challenging for our industry.”

Hoare says the pork board has put together a task force to look into the labor issue and to establish practices that can be used to best identify potential employees.

She says among the options are working more with community colleges and high schools.

“For example, there is a high school in Texas who offers a course for students who don’t want to go to college and are interested in working in the pork industry,” Hoare says. “There are thousands of high school students who aren’t planning to attend college. That’s an excellent resource for us.

“They can get started with an entry-level position and have the opportunity to excel and have a great career in the industry.”

She says most pork producers are very competitive when it comes to wages. In some regions, production agriculture is competing with packing plants and other industries for labor.

Hoare says the pork industry, as well as the rest of agriculture, need to become more creative when it comes to finding employees.

“Some states have a refugee population, and that’s a source of potential employees,” she says. “Hiring ex-convicts is something we haven’t done in the past. There are retired people who may be looking for an income source.

“There are many options for us if we get creative. We need to do a better job of getting the word out that we have a large number of jobs available.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.