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Start early: Teach youth about ag careers

LEAD Comment: A Nebraska LEAD graduate talks about the benefits of exposing youth early to potential college and career opportunities.

February 2, 2024

3 Min Read
4-H students in field with farmer
LEARNING TO DO: Programs such as 4-H, along with programming through schools and other educational partnerships, get Nebraska’s youth thinking about college and ag careers earlier, so they are more prepared to take that next step after high school graduation. Curt Arens

by Kim Bearnes

Nebraska agriculture is looking for new talent. There is a need for workers in the food chain, from seeds and fertilizers to finance, transportation, equipment manufacturers, digital exploration, and plant and computer science. 

Nebraska offers great opportunities right here in our home state that our youth are seeking.

I am a Nebraska Extension educator in the Stanton County office. As a 4-H Youth Development professional, I focus on college and career success. My other passion is working with the Nebraska Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) team. I was a LEAD Class 19 fellow. I live in Laurel with my husband Kent, who was in LEAD Class 9, and I am also a naturalist at Ponca State Park.

Future of small communities

K.C. Belitz, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, has shown in a survey that “a majority of Nebraska’s youth want to live in a community similar to where they grew up.” 

We need to give our youth the ability, desire and confidence that they can find just those things right here at home. Nebraska is losing a lot of youth to agricultural jobs in other states, as they cannot recognize or find opportunities in our rural areas. 

College and career readiness have become a focus in many school systems, often starting exposure to college and career options in elementary school. Waiting to have conversations about higher education and career options in high school is now considered to be an old adage. 

While school systems are beginning this focus earlier through opportunities with students, it’s imperative for parents to understand the importance of introducing college and career readiness options to their children.

Basic conversations about the importance of going to college and the reason for going is linked to learning skills and knowledge to prepare them for a future career. College may be daunting or intimidating, particularly if no one else in the family is attending.

It is important to explain that college can mean different things for different people. Consider using the word “college” to be an easy way to explain that some people can go to college for a short term to do a certification program, a two-year college, or a four-year college and beyond.

Explaining the general options is a good way to make college seem more achievable to youth who are unsure if they have what it takes to be successful in higher education.

Ag careers

Nebraska youth need to be exposed to agricultural career options. Offering opportunities to meet with agriculture business professionals and discuss careers and the steps needed for future workplace success is imperative. We have great opportunities right here in our home state that our youth should be aware of. 

An example of programs built to expand career options in a rapidly changing workforce can be found in career development events offered through 4-H programming.

Understanding the impact of career development on community economic viability, Northeast Nebraska University of Nebraska Extension professionals and community leaders established a NE Nebraska UNL Career Day for area sophomores. To date, 20,000 students have had the opportunity to obtain insight about future careers, dreams and aspirations.

The Northeast Nebraska Agricultural Science and Natural Resources Education Compact, created in 2019, is a first-of-its-kind regional educational partnership for the state. The overarching goal of the compact is to meet the educational needs of youth and lifelong learners in agriculture and natural resources, to meet current and future workforce demands.

By offering a strong message to our youth — Nebraska offers a variety of desirable agricultural job opportunities — we all can help strengthen Nebraska’s community vitality. 

Bearnes is a graduate of LEAD 19.

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