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Job opportunities for ag grads avoid pandemic drag

Job opportunities for ag grads avoid pandemic drag

Iowa State University

At Iowa State University’s graduation this past May, nearly 87% of the 94 graduates in the agribusiness major had a job in hand. Typically, a 50% rate on graduation day is considered good.

When pandemic-related shutdowns began in March 2020, there were concerns about how it would affect the new work force.

Students were set to graduate in a couple of months and businesses were shut down or operating at limited capacity, but the bigger concern in the eyes of Mike Gaul was for the 2021 graduates.

Gaul, a career services representative for the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said most 2020 graduates who had a job offer in hand were likely not to have it rescinded in the early months of the pandemic. But, he said that after more than one year of the pandemic, it was tough to know how companies would react to new hires.

“It was the shakeout of the next year that had me worried,” Gaul said. “I was surprised when we looked at our May (2021 graduates), I crunched our graduation placement rates and especially on the agribusiness side of things I was blown away. A lot of the majors, particularly in the production ag side of things, were in surprisingly good shape.”

While internship opportunities were hit hard, full-time offers stayed strong for the 2021 graduates. At graduation this past May, he said nearly 87% of the 94 graduates in the agribusiness major at Iowa State had a job in hand. Typically, Gaul said, a 50% rate on graduation day is considered good.

One field that has boomed during the pandemic is food science, Gaul said. As there is growing demand for high-quality food and new technologies, he said there are many new jobs available for those areas.

“It’s a really, really high demand area and it doesn’t have a lot of students in it,” he said. “They are screaming for talent in quality assurance and research and development or sales and production.”

Along with food science, animal care is a field that has grown during the pandemic. While in lockdown, many families have adopted pets, leading to increased demand in the pet food and pet care industries.

He said agronomy is also a field that has fairly high demand.

Much like any business, the rate of available jobs largely depends on supply and demand. Some of the toughest majors for students to find jobs in are in natural resource or animal ecology, Gaul said. This covers careers in wildlife management, zoos or park rangers.

He said with the pandemic, things have slowed down in a few of those industries, but Gaul also noted that they are simply hard fields to break into.

“Some of these government entities, people get in those jobs and never leave,” Gaul said. “In tight times, they aren’t adding budgets either to create new jobs, so that’s an area that is a bit tight. New jobs aren’t being created in some of those areas, so it’s a bit of a flip from the ag-business market in terms of a supply and demand market.”

Finances are another factor some students are considering in their decisions. Iowa State published a survey of 22 universities on the starting salaries for December 2020 and May 2021 graduates, with the area of Technical & Biosystems Engineering, Industrial Technology, and Packaging Services leading the way with an average salary of $60,251.

“There are some great salaries out there for students coming out,” Gaul said. “Salaries have definitely climbed north very, very nicely for these students.”

Average starting salaries by field:

  • Agricultural Economics & Business: $51,425
  • Agricultural Education, Communication & Studies: $42,417
  • Agronomy and Crop Sciences: $48,525
  • Animal and Dairy Sciences: $37,815
  • Biological Sciences: $38,006
  • Environmental Sciences, Fisheries, Forestry & Wildlife Biology: $39,406
  • Food Science, Human Nutrition & Dietetics: $49,604
  • Horticulture: $37,791
  • Technical & Biosystems Engineering, Industrial Technology, and Packaging Services: $60,251

Source: Iowa State University

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