As they gathered in the bleachers to listen to industry leaders and experts share their knowledge about the swine industry, I couldn’t help but think these are the most important faces of our industry. No, they aren’t the most knowledgeable yet, and most haven’t even completed junior high school.
But they are our industry’s hope. The askers of hard questions. The seekers of information. The messengers of our story. Simply put, our future.
So how do we reach these young people? How do we attract their attention as an industry before someone else does?
There’s no denying that these kids are a hot commodity. They share a common interest – they love pigs. They love raising them, caring for them, showing them, feeding them and talking about them. And that’s a good place to start. At the very core of the any industry worth pursuing lies a passion.
In addition, these kids know how to work. That’s why everyone wants to hire them. Caring for pigs has taught them the value of attention to detail, dedication, responsibility and self-motivation. They aren’t afraid of putting in the time needed to get the best results.
Educational organizations such as 4-H, FFA, the National Junior Swine Association and Team Purebred, to name a few, are helping to build this future labor force and are introducing them to the myriad of opportunities available in agriculture and pork production. How are you engaging with these groups?
I’ve heard many pig farmers say labor is one of the biggest issues that keeps them up at night. Who will take over their job someday? Who will step in as their farm’s nutritionist? Human resources director? Barn manager? Who will discover a vaccine for African swine fever? Who will lobby for pork producers on Capitol Hill?
As I stood by listening to the speakers, Brian Arnold, pork medicated feed additive specialist for Zoetis, walked up to me. I like to think I helped, in some small way, to recruit him to judge livestock at Black Hawk College East Campus. Since those days, our friendship has grown, and I consider him one of the most promising young leaders I know.
We spent a long time discussing events like Illinois Pork Youth Day (the event we were attending) and the impact they can have on young people and our industry. The point we kept circling around was the need for more industry exposure – more opportunities for kids to see what pork production is really about and the multitude of career opportunities available for kids who have a passion for pigs and agriculture.
Very few people get the privilege of growing up on a pig farm. But these youth organizations and pig shows help us identify kids with the passion and work ethic our industry’s labor force needs.
“These events serve as a great pipeline not only to expose young people to pigs, but to develop that passion for pigs where they can continue to learn more about the industry and translate those passions into careers that are very much needed in the pork industry,” Arnold says. “In my opinion, there is a lot of talent that can be developed through activities like this today.”
I couldn’t agree more. Look for Farm Journal’s PORK to explore this topic as we build up a future work force of innovative, talented, hardworking kids who care about pigs. I’d love to know what you think.