Agriculture has a high demand for a qualified, educated labor force. As world population grows, so does the demand for agricultural products.

Agriculture has transformed from a traditional producer-based image to a global consumer-driven food and energy industry, full of cutting-edge science and technology. The USDA reports through 2015 there will be a shortage of qualified college graduates ready to enter the agriculture, food and natural resource industry. Human capital is an issue for businesses both large and small, government agencies, associations and production enterprises. Historically ,agriculturalists came from a farm or ranch background and filled the shoes of the previous generation. But that isn't always the case today.

In fact, many agriculturists of my generation will have no traditional connection to agriculture. Regardless of background, the next generation of agriculture leaders needs to have a broad skill set to be successful.

Industry professionals emphasize the need for students entering the workforce to be equipped with soft skills essential for communication, decision making and problem solving. These skills are learned through hands on experiences associated with leadership positions in internships and student and professional organizations rather than in the traditional classroom.

Agriculture Future of America is one professional organization that provides soft skill development opportunities. AFA supports collegiate men and women and young professionals preparing for careers in agriculture through leader development, scholarships and internship support. AFA’s programs aid in the development of human capital for the agriculture and food industry.

These programs are based on four programmatic pillars: self-assessment, communication, managing change and lifelong learning. AFA places a high priority on quality of students and programming. All students engaged in AFA training are chosen through a competitive selection process.

As a student, I have personally benefitted from AFA leader training at the AFA Policy Institute, AFA Animal Institute and AFA Leaders Conference. My academic coursework has taught me practical skills related to agricultural journalism, but AFA has taken my coursework a step further, and helped me grow as a young professional in the agriculture industry. AFA has given me the confidence to approach employers and market myself and my skill set.

This blog series is a joint effort from AFA and Vance Publishing to focus on AFA’s programmatic pillars to help you expand your skill set by tapping into professional development insights from industry leaders and past AFA participants.