Career Counseling 101 By Dr. David M. Kohl Many readers are seeking or have children seeking education or employment in the agricultural industry. Others in the mid-stages of their career are contemplating new employment opportunities and possible next moves. Being an educator, I have found that a bond or trust is developed and evolved with many former students, so they seek me out for advice. The following is a set of well thought out questions from a former student, which can be applied to anyone planning to be involved in the agricultural industry. Is agriculture the right industry for a career? My response is yes. Agriculture over the next several decades will be five dimensional, including food, fiber, fuel, products for the life sciences, and life experiences. This diversified industry will need to thrive both domestically and globally to feed and clothe a growing world population. There will be a wide range of agricultural entrepreneurial enterprises, from small to very large, and some with complex business arrangements. This will require an agri-professional with deep industry and customer knowledge who is in touch with consumer needs in a constantly changing marketplace. A person who will engage in a career in agriculture will need training and skills in business, economics, biology, and communications with an understanding of global cultures, in addition to knowledge of the agricultural industry. What will the ag lending career look like in the next twenty years? A person with sound business and economic training with a high level of emotional intelligence will be able to “write their ticket” all the way up the management chain. Expect project and assignment work that will require alignment of your skill base with the circumstances or situation. Constant training and education will be critical for you to maintain the competency edge and employment security. I have some management experience. Does management always involve so much politics and turf protection? It sounds like you are a bit frustrated. Every organization has its flaws and will make mistakes. It is important to find a situation with the chemistry that aligns with your value systems and your style of management. Why do some teams and organizations pull together and perform at high levels? It is all about chemistry, which is constantly evolving. Oftentimes I will hear the comment that “our organization is like family that cares and respects each other.” Yes, new and old established family members will do things to upset this chemistry. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but unfortunately that the way life goes. How do I determine the stability of a new opportunity? First, examine where the business has been and its direction for the future. When you say “security,” you are indirectly telling me that is a high career priority. Check the financial health of the business, their business plan and objectives, their plan for succession, and where you would fit. Do they have a strategic vision? How has it changed over the years? I have the experience, vision, and intellect to contribute to a company at a high level. How long do I have to wait? Often patience is a virtue, but tough on a young, aggressive, “up and coming” professional in a specialized field such as agriculture. Sometimes taking on special projects and performing well is the avenue to spotlight your talent or potential abilities. Remember it is the people you work with that promote or fire you; The supervisor or boss just delivers the message. Sometimes one must go outside the nest to get the reward, but it may come with risk. Are there risks just being a manager and not producing direct income? Yes and no. If the organization is flat with little hierarchy, possibly yes. A lesson learned from the recent financial crisis was that the management teams were disconnected from the customers they served. Agricultural business models in the future may be flat instead of hierarchical. That being said, good managers and CEOs are constantly developing people in their organizations to serve customers in a profitable manner or on a long term basis. A major metric is whether or not you are accomplishing this. Do you raise the performance of those around you inside and outside the business? In summary, involvement in agriculture, regardless of enterprise, size of business, or responsibilities, can be challenging and rewarding. While the big cities often come with higher pay and some glamour, busy commutes and higher cost of living can be an impediment. In agriculture, you can work with a grounded customer base. Many rural areas you serve can be great places to raise a family for a balanced career and livelihood.
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