A shortage of people with agricultural skills is good for graduates seeking work.
But it’s not good for the country when the shortage of agriculture skills is reaching crisis point:
Incoming Waikato University agribusiness professor Jacqueline Rowarth is calling on the Government to help solve the problem, saying Prime Minister John Key and other political leaders should use public speaking opportunities to promote agriculture and science as a smart career choice.
“The minute John Key starts saying agriculture is our most important industry, we will see a shift back to students training in these vital subjects. All political leaders should be saying it. It should be apolitical,” she says.
A shortage of young people training in agriculture at university level is reaching crisis levels, with not enough graduates available to fill jobs, Rowarth says. With more farmers reaching retirement age, the situation will only get worse if New Zealand does not focus on this important area, given that agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
It’s not only politicians, teachers should be encouraging pupils into the subjects which prepare them for careers in agriculture.
Rowarth says the trend away from agricultural studies started with Prime Minister Helen Clark’s high-profile promotion of the creative and performing arts as a career choice in the 1990s.
“We had scholarships, the Peter Jackson effect and the knowledge wave, so we had a whole lot of young people going into the creative and performing arts.
“The problem is that only 100 tertiary students graduated in agriculture last year, compared with more than 2000 creative and performing arts students.”
How many of those 2000 creative and performing arts students got jobs in the field they were trained for and how many got any job at all?
Not having enough agriculture graduates to fill available jobs has seen the Government add agricultural science to the skilled migrant list, while graduates from other degrees struggle to find employment related to their studies.
Competition for our relatively few graduates won’t just come from employers here, Australia is also facing a skills shortage.
The Australians are going bananas, saying their agriculture skills shortage needs to be treated seriously. They need 4000 people for jobs in agriculture but are producing only 300 graduates, so guess where they’re going to get them from?
“The New Zealand Government needs to drop the fees for agriculture study and introduce scholarships, like Helen Clark did for the performing arts,” Rowarth says.
“If you have 50 to 100 of our best and brightest getting government agriculture scholarships, we will get the cohort effect – if the head boy gets the starry scholarship, his mates will follow him.”
I’m not sure about dropping fees but would support a bonding system similar to that National introduced for health professionals and vets under which a proportion of student loans is written off each year a new graduate works here.
Rowarth said agriculture must be promoted as a career choice to young children.
“The importance of the science of food production should be right throughout the school curriculum, not called `agriculture’ but using agricultural examples so it becomes second nature thinking for our young people.
“In studying history, we could consider the green revolution; in science we could consider grains and the action of chlorophyll; in economics we could discuss the economics of the potato famine.
“We have bred a whole generation of people who want to save the world, but right now it’s easier to teach pollution than production. We could rename the study of agriculture `natural resource management’ or `sustainable food production’.
“We should also be teaching our young people to consider where the jobs are. One of the greatest problems facing the world in the future is feeding the world. If you want to save the world and make a difference to your country, you should be studying agriculture.” That’s the way our politicians should be talking, Rowarth says.
It’s not just agriculture which doesn’t get the promotion it should as a career choice. Most science-based careers and trades are also facing a lack of new entrants while school pupils are diverted to other more popular but less useful subjects.
Andrei makes this point in what are we educating our children to be?
Hat tip: Quote Unquote