Key Working Group Observations and Ideas
Participants spent the bulk of the workshop engaged in small group discussions organized by topic (see Appendix B). Attendees were assigned to 1 of 10 discussion groups and asked to describe their observations about the given topic, existing activities to move the field forward in that topic area, and ideas for new actions, along with how those actions would be justified and their effectiveness measured. The groups briefly reported on their discussions during a final plenary session of the workshop. The following sections summarize the observations and suggestions from the working groups, in some cases condensed because of overlap. This summary from the breakout sessions reflects the discussion of the group and should not be construed as reflecting consensus of the group.
ANTICIPATING FUTURE WORKFORCE NEEDS
Two groups focused on gaining insights into future workforce needs. The first examined needs and methods for assessing talent supply and demand, while the second examined implications of the global context of the food, agriculture, and natural resources (FANR) fields.
Assessing Talent Supply and Demand
Wendy Fink of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities reported on the suggestions from the first group, which focused on opportunities to more clearly and accurately assess the supply and demand for FANR labor and talent.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could hold a yearly FANR employment outlook forum, akin to economic outlook forums.
- USDA could develop a new taxonomy of FANR occupations for assessing employment and aligning educational programs.
- Surveys or focus groups could serve to inform understanding of the types of information that key stakeholders need to make decisions. For example, what information will best help high school counselors to aid students and their parents with career choices?
Connecting the Dots in the Education Pathway
- Implement a freshmen survey to gauge where students believe their education path is leading.
- Improve methods for capturing the skill sets developed through various education programs such as college majors and minors, certificate programs, and badges. This effort could highlight the importance of nontechnical skills such as language fluency, as well as the need for greater consistency across institutions, particularly for coding programs.
- Improve methods to capture the satisfaction of employers and alumni with education programs.
Collecting and Using Data
- Create an interactive online tool for visualizing the FANR talent market akin to the Census Bureau’s “Where Do College Graduates Work?”1 tool.
- Support the ability of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area to gather data and conduct forecasting. Maintain a staff cadre within REE dedicated to focusing on human resource development and projections.
- Create a mechanism for alerting stakeholders to significant upward or downward shifts in FANR talent supply or demand, including a mechanism for capturing the ripple effect of major economic shifts in order to help the FANR segment prepare and respond.
- Increase outreach efforts to raise the visibility of available FANR jobs data and findings.
Fink also reported the suggestion that metrics be designed around three stakeholder types: the employee (the graduate), the employer, and the education provider. Surveys or focus groups could be used to determine whether each stakeholder’s needs are being met. In addition, she said, the impact of efforts to attract more talent could be monitored by tracking trends in enrollment, graduation, and job placement.
Understanding the Global Context
A second discussion group examined challenges in developing a workforce able to function beyond national borders. FANR—along with related issues such as sustainability, climate change, and water—is global. The professional FANR labor force is increasingly integrated within a competitive global market. This group, led by Crispin Taylor, American Society of Plant Biologists, highlighted
1 See https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/stem/stem-html. Accessed March 24, 2020.
the advantage of deliberately working to develop a FANR workforce that is globally minded, culturally aware, linguistically competent, and nationally and internationally mobile.
Group members suggested that achieving those goals will require targeted training and education programs and cross-disciplinary collaboration. It will also require determining when, where, and how to supplement the domestic labor force with international talent, and, conversely, when to deploy domestically trained workers abroad. However, these goals are complicated by issues such as cost and economics, immigration, language and cultural barriers, regional differences in education systems, and the location-specific aspects of agriculture.
The group described the following actionable ideas:
- Expose young people to global experiences by supporting access to international opportunities and providing mentorship and peer-to-peer engagement on international issues.
- Develop certificate programs, in conjunction with industry, that are targeted to specific FANR career paths and industry opportunities for international internships.
- Expand short- and long-term opportunities to work abroad.
- Facilitate the ability of foreign nationals to visit and hold positions in FANR companies and academic institutions in the United States.
To measure the success of international programs, educational institutions, USDA, and other relevant agencies could systematically collect data on international program participation and outcomes relevant to both short-term impacts (i.e., student performance, job placement, graduate school admissions) and long-term impacts (i.e., professional advancement, salaries, job satisfaction, mobility, diversity). This group also explored a suggestion that industry and academia collaborate to develop best practices and define necessary program components for international agriculture experiences. Collaboration would allow stakeholders to synchronize data collection on program outcomes.
ENHANCING RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
Three groups focused on ways to enhance recruitment and retention in FANR fields. The first explored ways to raise the profile of FANR fields and increase awareness of the many job and career opportunities available. The other two groups addressed specific considerations for industry and academia.
Raising the Profile of FANR
As several presenters noted, people perceive—and misperceive—FANR in a variety of ways. Many people tend to focus on production agriculture and conclude that the farming life is not for them, overlooking the broader array of FANR
careers. Dwight Armstrong, who led the group discussion, noted that this perception is exacerbated by a general misunderstanding of modern food production, highlighting the need to continually work to address misinformation within the populace.
The delivery of the message matters. Clear, personalized success stories can be particularly helpful for addressing misperceptions and increasing visibility for FANR careers. The terminology that is used (e.g., referring to food versus agriculture) influences perceptions, and understanding the way people self-identify can help inform how to best reach all groups. It is also important to convey the lifelong value of knowledge and skills that can be obtained through FANR education and training, and to frame the objective in terms of careers—not just jobs.
The first group emphasized approaches to effectively reach young people. These approaches require conveying how a career in FANR contributes to shared values and the greater good. A wide range of programs and activities have attempted to raise the profile of FANR among young people through teacher and classroom resources, learning and volunteer opportunities, grants, and informal education programs (see Appendix C for examples). However, there remain opportunities for new actions and new approaches. The group explored ways to increase awareness of FANR careers, develop effective classroom materials, and advance youth development efforts. The following ideas were put forward by participants in this breakout group.
Increasing FANR Visibility in Schools
- Support or create an agricultural high school, linked with a postsecondary institution, in every state.2
- Partner with the College Board to develop Advanced Placement courses specifically for agriculture.
- Advocate for agriculture courses to count for general education and science education credit.
- Engage postsecondary institutions; organizations such as Teach For America, UTeach STEM, and Ag in the Classroom; and other stakeholders in advocating for the inclusion of food and agriculture in STEM curricula and experiential learning for middle and high schools. For example, teachers can use food and agriculture examples as a vehicle to bring STEM and financial literacy concepts alive.
- Work with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, and other organizations to provide competitive grants for student farms and gardens.
- Partner with career placement offices and guidance counselors at high schools and postsecondary institutions to promote career opportunities in agriculture.
2 The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, which partners with the University of Illinois, is a model of this type of school.
Thinking Beyond the Classroom
- Help students make personal connections with FANR through mentoring, volunteering, service learning, and video and social media campaigns. Partnerships with FFA Alumni, university alumni groups, business, and industry groups, as well as STEMconnector’s™ Million Women Mentors program could be particularly helpful for advancing these efforts.
- Market FANR and agricultural organizations to audiences outside of the traditional agriculture community.
- Engage disciplines that have traditionally not been involved in FANR, particularly in collaborations to promote entrepreneurship.
- Capitalize on the partnership between the Association of Science and Technology Centers and USDA to increase awareness of agriculture as a science.
- Explore ways to utilize other out-of-school programs about food and agriculture.
Echoing the ideas of the discussion group on assessing workforce talent, group members noted that effectiveness of different efforts to raise the profile of jobs in FANR could be evaluated if better data existed on the ultimate career trajectories of FANR educational program alumni. Such data might be obtained from USDA-supported grants to conduct longitudinal studies in this area.
Recruitment and Retention in the FANR Industry
The industry recruitment and retention discussion group, led by Quentin Tyler of the University of Kentucky and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences, explored some of the key challenges to recruiting and retaining FANR workers in the industry, along with opportunities and ongoing efforts to address those challenges. The group members considered awareness of industry jobs (relevant mainly to recruitment) as well as lifestyle compatibility issues, partnerships and relationships, and professional development (relevant to both recruitment and retention).
Awareness of Industry Jobs
Many students are simply not exposed to FANR industry employers or opportunities; others have an overly narrow view of the field as “just farming” or even a negative or distrustful view of companies. The problem is worsened by a lack of clarity, on the part of both employers and prospective employees, on the core competencies gained in various disciplines and the areas of study that can lead to success in FANR.
The group noted many opportunities to improve awareness and perceptions of industry jobs. These include identifying core competencies, technical skills,
and soft skills across disciplines; exposing students to FANR opportunities before they enter college; and working to overcome misperceptions and increase trust in companies. Reiterating a view expressed throughout the workshop, the group recognized the importance of conveying the broad nature of FANR fields and framing opportunities in the context of purpose-driven work that can make a difference on a societal scale.
Industry stakeholders are engaged in numerous ongoing efforts to address these issues. Examples include outreach activities such as career fairs, speaking engagements, tours, and field visits, as well as scholarships, internships, and experiential learning opportunities, often created in partnership with universities. Other channels for reaching prospective employees include community engagement activities and professional society–led programs aimed at increasing awareness of opportunities and attracting a more diverse group of students from various disciplines. The industry also has invested in targeted short- and long-term incentives to enhance recruitment and retention, including student loan forgiveness, competitive salaries, career development support, and efforts to support work–life balance.
Lifestyle issues present important barriers to recruitment and retention. In particular, jobs located in rural areas may be less appealing to individuals from urban areas and to those concerned about a spouse’s job prospects. The size of businesses, scope of work, and available resources can also be perceived as too limited in some environments. Cultural barriers are also important. Certain groups, such as minorities and women, may encounter unconscious or conscious bias in small, rural communities, and within the industry; thus, clarifying to all employees how workplace diversity efforts contribute to company success would also help break down barriers.
Opportunities to address these barriers include meaningful diversity training, robust orientation and onboarding programs, efforts to ease the transition into the local community, and connecting employees with affinity groups or support groups within an organization. A focus on attracting local talent could also help address the challenges involved in recruiting workers from urban to rural areas. Companies can also help employees build their careers within the company through mentoring programs and by creating opportunities for employees to set and accomplish personal goals.
Current activities in this area include exploratory trips and relocation packages for employees, housing support for interns, dual-career support programs, employer affinity groups, and new employee orientation cohorts.
Relationships and Partnerships
Relationships and partnerships between industry stakeholders and other companies, universities, and government bodies can create valuable opportunities
for engaging in dialogue, sharing best practices, and gaining exposure to talent and opportunities. Industry–university relationships, in particular, have led to innovative programs to improve curricula and engage students in hands-on experiences. However, these partnerships can be impeded by conflicting goals among industry, university, and government stakeholders; time and resource constraints; a lack of metrics for tracking return on investment; and competition for talent within the industry.
The group discussion highlighted relationships and partnerships as particularly valuable for providing settings in which workforce prospects and current employees can engage in networking, conferences and training programs, professional and internal development programs, mentoring programs, outreach programs, and development grants and programs. The group members emphasized the value of clear and precise planning by the partners; a consistent presence and constant contact with prospective recruits, including consistent metrics for tracking students; and partnerships with professional societies and non-land-grant schools.
The group discussed key challenges in the FANR industry related to professional development including succession planning, knowledge transfer, and differing goals for short- and long-term career trajectories. Companies could address these challenges by recognizing and meeting the needs of a multi-generation workforce; providing resources consistent with best practices for creating formal, individual development plans; sharing success stories and testimonials; supporting formal and informal mentoring programs; and supporting continuing education for employees to advance in various FANR career tracks.
Ideas from individuals in the industry group to address the issues discussed above included the following:
- Engage FANR stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach to recruiting and retaining talent.
- Develop a FANR Council responsible for overseeing the design and implementation of activities.
- Create a common platform for universities, government, agribusiness, and professional societies to convene annually to explore the advancement of FANR through shared learning, best practices, and accountability.
- Identify transferrable skills that are key to career success in FANR.
- Develop a fact sheet conveying how training in various disciplines connects with job opportunities and career pathways in FANR.
- Develop an awareness/recruitment week geared toward promoting careers in FANR, dispelling stereotypes about the industry, and educating the public on FANR issues.
To assess the effectiveness of these activities, the group suggested tracking new recruit conversion rates over the long term, the number of unfilled jobs, improvements in diversity in terms of gender and underrepresented groups, and recruitment of candidates from disciplines outside agriculture. Short-term metrics could include surveys, the number of qualified applicants for jobs, and information on how job candidates learned of opportunities.
Recruitment and Retention in Academia
The third group to discuss recruitment and retention issues examined opportunities to attract students in the FANR pipeline from K–12 to postsecondary education to advanced degree programs and postdoctoral positions. The group members discussed ways to create transformative experiences at all education levels and to reframe FANR disciplines to emphasize their cultural, social, and economic relevance. Tiffany Carter, a graduate student from Kansas State University at the time of the workshop, reported that the discussion group explored holistic approaches to attracting and retaining high-quality individuals in academia, including the following:
- Intentionally tailor recruitment efforts to target different groups, such as urban youth or college students in fields outside of traditional FANR disciplines.
- Offer campus immersion opportunities for K–12 teachers to create support systems for engaging students.
- Partner with community agriculture education groups to engage more K–12 students, particularly those underrepresented in FANR fields.
- Engage persons of influence (i.e., parents, role models, family members) in agricultural education programs to support K–12 student interest.
- Provide campus immersion opportunities to K–12 students to foster interest in FANR fields, as well as recruit students into FANR academic programs upon high school graduation.
- Utilize existing targeted recruitment programs at universities to support program improvement and initiation at universities without existing programs.
- Improve efforts to reach people where they live. Tailor efforts to support low socioeconomic status families that may not be able to afford travel to attend campus visits. Attend to financial and lifestyle considerations. Ensure that academic recruiters are culturally competent in order to minimize potential cultural offenses.
- Support faculty teaching efforts by providing “near-peer” mentoring opportunities for students.
- Partner with industry to provide transformative work and research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students.
- Provide a livable wage for graduate student teaching and research assistants during their graduate studies.
- Partner with government agencies and industry to increase the amount of funding and fellowship opportunities available to graduate students.
- Provide additional support, via mentorship programs, for women and minorities to ensure their academic success in graduate school.
- Provide interdisciplinary research experiences for graduate students to ensure that the next generation of academics is prepared to work on agricultural issues that are culturally, socially, and economically relevant.
- Use surveys and other social science methods to assess the effectiveness of recruitment and retention programs and efforts in academia.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING TOOLBOX
The remaining five discussion groups examined tools that could improve FANR education and training. The first two considered opportunities in two main parts of the traditional education pipeline: (1) pre-college and community/technical college education, and (2) university programming. The third group focused on new opportunities made possible by technology and online instruction. The fourth group explored public–private partnerships (PPPs), while the fifth addressed experiential learning opportunities such as co-curricular activities and internships.
Pre-College and Community/Technical College Education
Tiffany Heng-Moss of the University of Nebraska and Jay Lee of Northeastern Junior College led a discussion on the need to support purposeful career exploration of opportunities in FANR and to help students identify career goals and an accompanying plan of study from secondary to postsecondary education.
Pre-college and community/technical college education falls short in several ways when it comes to engaging students around FANR topics and retaining them in the pipeline. STEM education has received a great deal of attention and investment, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, yet agriculture is absent from much of this programming, both within and outside of the classroom. Funding for elective-based, agriculture-related programming has shrunk, further reducing students’ exposure to these topics.
Another key challenge raised by some group members is that alignments between secondary and postsecondary programs are spotty and vary greatly by institution and state. In general, guidance counselors may discourage students from pursuing FANR pathways because of an incorrect perspective about few opportunities for advancement, and exposure to agriculture education opportunities is particularly limited among students in urban areas. This misconception could be corrected by expanding awareness of certificate and associate degree programs in agriculture. In addition, many students enter community colleges with a plan
to transfer to a 4-year degree path. However, they may not be aware of opportunities to earn certifications that include training directly with companies in the industry.
The group explored possible avenues to address these gaps, including the following:
- Develop and articulate common messaging and accurate data about FANR career opportunities. Specifically, FANR stakeholders could connect with the American School Counselor Association to advance this effort.
- Develop degree and certificate competencies for FANR. Specifically, this goal could be advanced through the following steps:
- Professional societies and trade organizations could convene workshops to bring together disciplinary experts, secondary agriculture and science educators, community college faculty, representatives from 4-year institutions and government, and employers, perhaps with funding from NIFA and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
- Educational institutions could expand concurrent enrollment opportunities in high-demand FANR pathways.
- Employers or professional societies could provide endorsements recognizing secondary and postsecondary institutions that design curricula around competencies.
- Integrate FANR into STEM teaching resources. In particular:
- FANR concepts could be incorporated into K–12 science, technology, social studies, math, and business education through targeted teacher preparation, professional development, and instructional resources. This effort could include aligning agriculture concepts and applications with educational standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards.
- FANR could be integrated into the general education programs at 2- and 4-year institutions and pre-service methods courses.
- Teachers in K–12 and community/technical colleges could benefit from research experiences and experiential learning focused on the science process and agriculture, perhaps with funding support from NIFA.
This group explored how university programming could better build soft skills,3 an area it viewed as a major gap between what universities provide and what FANR employers need. Changes in technology are driving a change in the
3 Although there is no common definition of soft skills, a recent pair of surveys by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities provides useful context. See https://www.aplu.org/library/from-academia-to-the-workforce-executive-summary/file. Accessed December 1, 2020.
roles people play throughout their careers and how people communicate in the workplace. These trends increase the need for workers to be adaptable and self-managing, be willing to work in different groups and environments, and have strong non-verbal and interpersonal communication skills.
Soft skills begin early in development and become somewhat fixed by the time a person enters graduate school or the workforce. They can be learned through intentional instructional strategies, as well as through experiences such as living independently, interacting with international students, and activities outside the classroom. The group stressed that the full spectrum of FANR stakeholders could be more involved in efforts to address soft skills gaps, including students and families, teachers and faculty, administrators, government, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and professional organizations.4
Drew Ratterman, formerly of Dow AgroSciences, summarized suggestions from group members for actions:
- Rebrand “soft skills” to better convey the nature of these skills and improve buy-in among students and academic services. Potential alternative terms include “life skills,” “professional skills,” and “interpersonal skills.”
- Establish best practices for soft skills development and evaluation. Disseminate these through:
- A manual for teachers and an inventory of practices and existing activities.
- A national symposium or centers of excellence, which could involve the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture and include the development of certifications or minors for soft skills, regional workshops and boot camps, and instructional modules for faculty.
- Integrate soft skills development and competencies into coursework and student assessments. Experiential learning such as capstone classes, study abroad, internships, and volunteer and extra-curricular activities are especially valuable for soft skills development and could be expanded, supported with scholarships, and perhaps even required as part of programs. Other ideas include requiring life skills as a freshman seminar and utilizing nontraditional training tools such as webinars and peer mentoring.
- Align activities across academia, industry, and students. This action could include:
4 Since the workshop, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities released a strategy document for higher education to prepare students with a broader set of employment skills. See https://www.aplu.org/library/ready-for-jobs-careers-and-a-lifetime/file. Accessed August 1, 2020.
- Increasing industry involvement in the classroom and in making the case for soft skills development.
- Adjusting tenure systems to incentivize faculty innovation in using instructional strategies and involvement in co-curricular activities that build soft skills.
- Engaging student services and student-led organizations as venues for soft skills training and mentoring.
- Working toward an employment-oriented culture in academia, for example, through formal industry mentoring programs, career development events, and engagement with professional societies.
- Providing public funding to support soft skills development (e.g., through training grants or challenge grants). Soft skills development is currently supported almost entirely by private companies’ investments in skill development for interns and new hires.
- Invest more in soft skills development in K–12 and pre-college education, including through industry involvement and linkages with STEM learning.
- Increase the collection and sharing of data on soft skill development.
To assess success and build a compelling case for future investments in this area, the group suggested setting benchmarks and formally tracking the number of students involved in soft skill development activities in universities and impacts on graduation rates and GPA, job offers or graduate school enrollment, starting salaries, and work readiness and effectiveness. A variety of approaches including self-reporting, job data tracking, proficiency assessments, and university programming assessments will be needed to understand university programming, outcomes in the workplace, and soft skills gaps. It would also be useful to track the amount and sources of funding for consistent efforts, faculty training in this area, and awareness of soft skills development needs and opportunities among key groups.
Jay Ackridge of Purdue University led a group discussion of opportunities to enhance student engagement in FANR through experiential learning approaches. Experiential learning, which includes intra-curricular and co-curricular activities, requires a holistic perspective that considers the nature of the individual student along with industry and academic objectives for learning outcomes. A rich portfolio of existing experiential learning opportunities includes internships, study abroad programs, undergraduate research opportunities, clubs, and active learning or “flipped classroom” style teaching approaches.
These activities can help students to develop both professional skills and personal characteristics, such as maturity and responsibility, and to explore career paths and develop their networks. From an industry perspective, these approaches can help employers evaluate talent and build relationships with students and
faculty. They also can help develop skills and career opportunities for faculty members.
The group’s suggestions to further enhance experiential learning in FANR include the following:
- Align program goals with desired outcomes for both students and employers, and design activities such that students engage directly with employers. At the graduate school level, develop activities that expose students to industry employers and build their skills to become workplace ready.
- Provide adequate resources to support co-curricular activities. Require the development of these activities as a part of faculty work, prepare faculty members and staff to integrate them with the academic program, and provide sufficient funding, time, and staffing.
- Consider opportunities for disruptive change. For example, foster exploration of new models of education, including collaborative models, competency-based models, and support for entrepreneurial activities. Examine alternative mechanisms for assessment, credentialing, and validation, such as a co-curricular transcript. These options could also be explored through experiential learning “laboratories” and grants.
- Consider how activities can be structured to provide meaningful preparation for the workforce, enable students to reflect on the skills they are acquiring, attract and serve a diverse population of students, and build on one another to create additive benefits. Consider which environments and program designs are best suited for learning which skills (e.g., base competencies are best addressed through intra-curricular coursework and activities).
- Advance intra-curricular activities through faculty and staff development and development and implementation of active learning methods and through integration with co-curricular activities.
It will be important to define measures of improvement to validate these activities, in particular, to assess the effectiveness of co-curricular activities.
Technology and Online Instruction
The technology and online instruction group facilitated by Norman Scott of Cornell University considered how technology can be used to respond to cultural change; advance innovation; and attract, recruit, educate, and retain the future FANR workforce. Emerging technology offers opportunities to integrate and blend classroom, experiential, and online experiences to reach a broader array of audiences and learning styles. In the informal sphere, social media, games, pod-casts, and entertainment can break down stereotypes and increase awareness. For formal education, technologies such as online instruction and massive open online courses (MOOCs) present new forms of pedagogy, courses, mentoring, badging,
and certification. As students and workplaces change, online interactions can connect stakeholders as they respond to rapid changes and growth. The report of the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology’s (MIT’s) Online Education Policy Initiative5 describes opportunities from online learning that include “customization of learning, remote collaboration, just-in-time scenarios, continuous assessment and blended learning.” Defined as a “digital scaffold,” online learning makes feasible various learning approaches and increased use of digital media such as video, spaced learning, self-paced learning, and game-based learning, to note a few examples. The unique benefits provided by online education are relevant for a wide array of situations and students.6
Samuel Crowell, formerly a Fellow at USDA, summarized comments from group members into six actionable items:
- Inventory existing programs and audiences involving online interactions in FANR. Following this inventory, survey stakeholders across the stakeholder value chain to gauge future needs.
- Identify and create models to support eLearning and online education platforms. Drive accessibility and availability of resources toward a goal of enabling people to learn anytime, anyplace.
- Create an online portal or “academy” dedicated to hosting or highlighting relevant FANR programs. This effort could include wikis for active stakeholder involvement and updating.
- Create and articulate financial and business models to support relevant initiatives. For example, a competitive grants program could be established to support the development of innovative curricula and build capacity to scale up programs and delivery.
- Leverage technology to tell compelling stories and attract more people to FANR fields. Technology platforms such as social media, gamification, apps, hackathons, and virtual and augmented reality can help increase exposure to FANR. Emphasizing high-tech opportunities in these fields (e.g., biotechnology, nanotechnology, drones, robotics) could help garner enthusiasm from a broader array of potential students and workers.
5 MIT Online Education Policy Initiative. 2016. Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms. See https://oepi.mit.edu/files/2016/09/MIT-Online-EducationPolicy-Initiative-April-2016.pdf. Accessed December 1, 2020.
6 Recent global health crises (COVID-19) have created the application of online education and working to an extent that was only a futuristic vision during the workshop. University education and working from home by online connections have become the new form for delivery of courses and the platform for working at home for businesses. One can project this widespread online adoption may be entering a stage of a transformation of education and the workplace of the future.
- Collaborate and align with ongoing initiatives, capitalizing on opportunities to connect FANR with broader efforts to attract underrepresented groups to STEM careers.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)
The final discussion group, led by Bob Brackett of the Illinois Institute of Technology, explored how partnerships and collaborations among academia, government, and the private sector help meet FANR capacity and workforce needs. PPPs contribute to maintaining and growing U.S. leadership in FANR and have a valuable role to play in addressing skills gaps and disconnects between workforce supply and demand.
Examples of PPP approaches include research consortia; industry–academic partnerships; training alliances; co-ops, internships, fellowships, and training grants; adjunct and nontraditional faculty positions; outreach and capacity building; incubators and cooperative research and development agreements; and professional associations. These models can help address FANR workforce development challenges by helping the community define FANR jobs, trends, and skill requirements; work to address common misperceptions; and create opportunities for experiential and lifelong learning. They can also reveal insights into the cultural differences among disciplines, sectors, and prospective workers and help various stakeholders identify their roles and responsibilities.
However, PPPs are inherently challenging, frequently encountering hurdles around legal and regulatory requirements; conflict of interest; transparency, trust, and mutual respect; governance; monitoring; and long-term sustainability. The group discussed a few significant barriers to the effective use of PPPs such as image, perception, and advocacy.
Looking forward, many group members stressed the importance of public and private sectors to work toward a unified effort to build the FANR workforce collectively rather than pursuing individual partnerships, the importance of a greater government focus on workplace development (e.g., in the context of Title VIII), and the value of co-ops and other experiential opportunities.
Brackett summarized the thoughts of many group members on opportunities to move the development of PPPs forward:
- Document the need for PPPs, analyze gaps, and create incentives to invest in their improvement and development. Although some reports have documented the needs (e.g., from USDA’s Economic Research
- Service7 and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology8), actions and implementation to address them have lagged.
- Consider what strategic approaches for creating PPPs could be applied at the regional, national, and international levels.
- Advocate for greater use of PPPs through alliances with lobbyists, trade associations, and consumer groups that can encourage policy makers to support incentive programs.
- Examine whether training grants supported by NIFA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, NSF, the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, and foundations could be expanded and how the training (T32) grants from the National Institutes of Health might be further leveraged.
- Take advantage of communications mechanisms such as social media to increase awareness and engagement in these efforts.
According to Brackett, assessing the effectiveness of PPPs and programs to incentivize them is tricky because each partnership involves a unique form, scope, and set of contributors. It will be useful to document these elements to the extent possible and to track funding levels along with outcomes such as the number of students trained, evidence of overcoming diversity barriers, and effects on institutional ranking, job placement, and employee proficiency. Both private- and public-sector stakeholders will require evidence of a positive return on investment. Finally, it will be useful to evaluate whether these efforts are effective in conveying a unified message about FANR to target audiences, such as through surveys and funding analyses.
In final comments, Chuck Rice, Kansas State University, and Chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, thanked the workshop participants for their time and thoughtfulness in describing the many fronts at which the FANR community faces both challenges and opportunities. He said the meeting provided a template for the way in which the public and private sectors could work together to fill the workforce pipeline. The groups’ suggestions created a portfolio of ideas for collaborative efforts to create a FANR workforce for the future.
7 See https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2013/november/public-private-partnerships-create-opportunities-to-enhance-the-agricultural-research-system. Accessed March 24, 2020.
8 See https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/PCAST/Private%20Sector%20Adaptation%20to%20Climate%20Change.pdf. Accessed March 24, 2020.