The future workers needed to grow Indiana’s agbioscience work force aren’t enrolled where one might expect—at Purdue University’s College of Agriculture, for example. While that school is a critical pipeline of agricultural workers, a new report reveals that funneling the “fringe” students into agbioscience is equally important; the business major, information technology undergrad or engineering student hold the key to unlocking the full potential of Indiana’s agbioscience industry.

“It’s really human talent that’s the ultimate competitive factor for economic growth,” says AgriNovus Indiana President and Chief Executive Officer Beth Bechdol. “We wanted to know what the current work force landscape in agbioscience looks like in Indiana, and more importantly, understand the changing work force talent needs.”

The work force analysis, commissioned by the state’s food and agriculture innovation initiative AgriNovus Indiana, reveals that agbioscience employs about 75,000 Hoosiers, representing 3 percent of Indiana’s total private sector employment. The report also shows the sector’s growth is outpacing others: from 2003 to 2014, Indiana experienced a 22 percent increase in total agbioscience employment, compared to 3 percent growth for Indiana’s total private sector.

The report shows that Indiana is doing well in providing a steady flow of workers to fill “core” occupations: jobs that have a distinct, direct role in the agbioscience industry. People filling these positions are likely plant sciences or animal breeding graduates from Purdue’s College of Agriculture.

“The number of students that are being produced within Indiana’s educational institutions in the core field is meeting the demand of the industry for this type of talent,” says TEConomy Partners Principal and Senior Director Deborah Cummings, who wrote the report. “In fact, Indiana’s depth of core-related degree programs at its institutions is so well aligned with its agbioscience industry that it’s a real area of competitive advantage for the state.”

Cummings says it isn’t surprising, however, that Indiana mirrors the nation in its inability to attract the number and quality of workers to serve in “allied” occupations. These are positions in areas including business, IT and skilled production—occupations that transcend multiple industries, meaning agbioscience must compete with other advanced sectors to attract workers.

“We’re not aware of any state that’s attempting to tackle this problem and work to make agbioscience career awareness a real focus of their efforts,” says Cummings. “If Indiana could better align its allied degrees with the agbioscience opportunities in the state, that too could be a real competitive advantage. It could really enhance the talent supply that agbioscience companies need to succeed.”

To help Indiana surmount this challenge, TEConomy Partners has recommended four strategies that span the continuum from K-12, to postsecondary and beyond—including senior executives and post-retirement professionals. Bechdol says Indiana will take some pages out of other states’ or universities’ playbooks, where these strategies have been successful.

In K-12, the mission involves sparking students’ interest in agbioscience through curriculum updates, partnerships with 4-H or FFA to promote career discovery and a statewide agbioscience career day. Postsecondary efforts include internships and joint MS/MBA programs for students in degree programs that lead to “core” occupations.

Cummings says working to hook students in engineering, IT or business-related programs is especially important: “so, not just finding the internship for the animal breeding degree student, but also for the accounting or engineering student with agbioscience companies is important.”

“Also using externships to make sure faculty in some of these non-ag disciplines understand the potential and opportunities,” says Bechdol. “A biology professor at Butler, Hanover or Franklin College can begin to understand what the practical needs and trends are inside the agbioscience business. And their wheels begin to turn on, ‘how can I make better connections for my students into career opportunities in agbioscience?’”

While AgriNovus Indiana will lead the charge, Bechdol emphasizes that Indiana agbioscience businesses must play a key role in swelling the ranks of future workers.

“So many of our agbioscience firms will tell you that talent is probably one of the most strategic investments they can make,” says Bechdol. “It’s imperative that they take a very serious approach to this career discovery and engagement effort—building the pipeline of talent to meet the needs of those businesses.”

Bechdol says businesses need to continue to “come alongside” AgriNovus to share the story of agbioscience careers in Indiana.

Bechdol says enhancing connections between Indiana’s colleges and industry will help attract students to agbioscience careers.

Cummings says industry needs to be well-connected to all of the programs at Indiana’s colleges and universities that are relevant to the agbioscience sector.

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