White House initiative aims to diversify ag workforce

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2016 - The public and private sectors are being called upon to increase diversity in the agricultural workforce. A new White House initiative will seek to create programs and partnerships to entice different segments of the population into ag and science careers.

The America the Bountiful project emanates from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It is designed to narrow the gap between available ag jobs and available ag graduates. According to USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), every year until 2020 will have 22,500 fewer graduates than jobs available in agriculture and related fields such as renewable natural resources and the environment.

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“We must make young people aware of the opportunities and significant global challenges in agriculture today,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a taped statement at the initiative's rollout event at USDA's Washington headquarters. “Once we've captured their imaginations, we need to support access to educational opportunities across the educational spectrum.”

As part of the announcement, a number of new programs to encourage opportunities for a more diverse workforce were also unveiled. One in particular was an investment of over $382,000 through NIFA's Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields Program. The four institutions that will share the investment are: the Level Playing Field Institute in Oakland, California; the Universidad del Este in Puerto Rico; Purdue University in Indiana and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

In all, commitments were announced from the National Science Foundation as well as more than 70 state, nonprofit, and private sector entities. One of those companies is Archer Daniels Midland, which along with 45 other firms as well as USDA participate in the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable.

“This is the one area - talent - that we cannot compete with each other,” Michael D'Ambrose, senior vice president and chief human resources officer with ADM, said at the event. “We have to come together to be successful for our companies, for our shareholders, and for the bigger mission that we serve, which is feeding the world.”

D'Ambrose said at ADM, they “search the globe” for talent to fill jobs within the company. Still, he said he was aware of openings at the ADM's corporate headquarters in Decatur, Illinois, that have been vacant for about three years.

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This month, the roundtable will convene and present “three-year strategic plans for building a diverse and inclusive pipeline of talent and a competitive U.S. agriculture sector,” the White House said.

Robin Gruebel, the academic outreach manager at DuPont Pioneer, said her job is a new position at the company; she jokingly said one of her charges is to “make agriculture sexy” to students considering a career path. Both Gruebel and D'Ambrose stressed the importance of reaching out to students. This would ensure

students get the proper education to fill the job openings and to make sure they are interested in ag careers in the first place.

Ruthe Farmer, a senior policy adviser for tech inclusion with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said new methods of attracting students into ag careers will be needed, as the general population of students gets more diverse.

“More than half of K-12 students are not white, so we are looking at very different demographics, and more-of-the-same approaches is not going to get us to including everybody,” she said at today's event. “We really need to be very deliberate and intentional about how we include underrepresented students and make things appealing to everyone.”


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