With the wait for the matric results finally over, thousands of school-leavers will be flocking to the gates of higher learning institutions. Some will find placement for the 2022 academic year while others will be turned away. But disappointment can be turned into opportunity, according to experts, who say that agriculture holds many exciting career paths in a sector that continues to grow.
More than 600 000 people are formally employed in the agriculture sector, says Laurika du Bois, head of marketing and student recruitment at Agricolleges International. What’s more, is that an estimated 8.5 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their employment and income.
Encouraging school-leavers to take advantage of this growing industry, Du Bois says that agriculture has undergone a startling metamorphosis from the “all-day-in-the-fields” sector it had once been into one that now invites everyone from backyard growers to highly skilled technicians.
“In addition to being part of an industry that has excellent career prospects for skilled individuals and that is critical to the improvement of global food security, there are plenty of other reasons to join the agriculture industry too.
“As the world changes and farmers search for solutions to issues such as climate change, water-smart farming and sustainability, fresh perspectives from young, innovative minds are essential for future growth,” she says.
“The world is moving forward at a swift pace and we need skilled young farmers to ensure agriculture keeps pace.”
Play the sector to your advantage
Du Bois says it is quite shocking that – in a multi-billion-rand industry – many job seekers are unaware of the incredible, high-paying opportunities that agriculture has to offer.
“It’s an industry that is constantly evolving and consistently in desperate need of new talent. Agricultural careers provide job security, competitive pay rates and the chance to really have an impact on your community and the country.
“With the population rising at faster rates than ever before, agricultural careers are becoming increasingly more important. Life is evolving and the way we live it is moving along at a rapid pace. As fast as some skills are becoming obsolete, the demand for others is growing,” she says.
Marianne van der Laarse, managing director at Agrijob, says that more job opportunities are likely to become available in the next year, as the agricultural industry is growing rapidly.
At the same time, secondary schools are not equipped to provide sufficient guidance on the vast career opportunities available in agriculture.
“Our view is that most school learners who decide to study agriculture, have had previous exposure to agriculture, for instance [from] a family member who has been farming, commercial or small-scale, or exposure to processing of agricultural products, or have a natural affinity to agriculture,” Van der Laarse says.
The next obstacle, she says, is that many school leavers might have some interest in agriculture, which could have been sparked by a television programme for instance, but they do not know where to find more information.
The most-considered agri careers
Monika Basson from the University of Stellenbosch says that there’s a stronger interest in entering the agricultural sector among school-leavers.
“Issues and buzzwords such as sustainability and food security do draw the attention to programmes such as Food Science and Conservation Ecology, but Animal Sciences is still a favourite amongst many,” she says.
“It is a pity that school-leavers – obviously with the right personality, interest and marks – don’t consider programmes such as Forestry and Wood Sciences since there is a shortage of skilled people within these environments.”Monika Basson from the University of Stellenbosch
Meanwhile, according to Du Bois, technology has led to the development of many innovative agricultural products and solutions, creating a host of unusual and exciting career options.
Exciting careers that school-leavers can consider
- Drone technologists – who show farmers how to increase yields and reduce crop damage using sensors, robotics and images from the air.
- Hydrologists – who protect the environment and promote sustainability while helping supply the world with clean, safe water.
- Agriculture communicators – who share the story of agriculture and engage the public to better understand it.
- Food scientists – who improve food products and create new ones using scientific principles that help maintain a wholesome food supply.
- Precision agriculture technologists – who teach farmers how to work better, not harder, by using new technologies that increase crop yields and decrease inputs.
Du Bois adds that there’s a high demand for research scientists, agronomists, veterinarians, salespeople, finance experts, information technologists, electricians and mechanics, just to name a few.
With skills shortages come great opportunity
Each part of the value chain in agriculture is experiencing its own challenges to acquire appropriate skills. Van der Laarse says that the value chain consists of five sectors covering from input supplies, the growing of plants and production of animals and harvesting to sorting, packing, processing, post-harvest handling, transportation and logistics, marketing, selling, trading and consumer science and behaviour. All of these experience skills shortages.
“For example, the input industry is struggling to find experienced breeders of plants, vegetables and crops such as sorghum. This sector also experiences a shortage of horticulturists, agronomists or agriculturists to provide technical support to growers, and especially technical sales.”
And young adults who really want to set themselves apart, can follow one qualification with another, advises Van der Laarse. Graduates with integrated qualifications and skills such as the combination of a BSc Agriculture degree and an additional commercial, trade or management qualification, or industrial engineering, is a rare combination that is in high demand.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.