Trey Miller, junior in agribusiness, hands his resume to Jessica Stephan, an export trader in the grain division with Bunge North America at the ISU Agriculture Department Career Fair on Sept. 25, 2012. (Photo by Carrie Muehling/WJBC)
By Carrie Muehling
NORMAL - College students looking for internships and jobs need to look no further than the agriculture industry.
More than 40 companies came to the Illinois State University campus Tuesday, seeking candidates to fill a variety of positions. ISU junior Garrett Timmons worked last summer for Bunge Grain, traveling from northeast Iowa to Memphis, Tenn. along the Mississippi River. Timmons worked at grain export terminals and met with farmers, while getting familiar with the process of buying and selling grain. He wants to build on the experience with another internship this summer, and he knows he is in the right place.
"I'm finding that there is a lot of demand for agriculture jobs right now. Recently there was a university-wide career fair and we only had 52 companies total, pulling from the university of business and other colleges around. This ag department only has 400 students, and you have 42 companies coming, so it kind of gives you a clue of the demand in agriculture right now and the growth of agriculture companies," said Timmons.
Timmons hopes to become a commodity merchandiser buying and selling grain after graduating from ISU. He could end up working with Jessica Stephan, an export corn trader for Bunge North America who holds a Bachelor's degree in agricultural education and a Master's in agribusiness from ISU.
"Agriculture just provides a lot of diversity and different experiences for anybody that's willing to take a chance with it," said Stephan. "There's always a need to feed people and livestock, and that's kind of where this industry is really exciting."
Stephan said there are lots of opportunities in grain marketing and many other areas, with room for advancement.
"There's a real gap in kind of the ages we have at different levels. We have that 50-55 plus group that are going to be retiring within the next, probably 10 years. We have the 30 and under, including the new college grads who are just not ready to jump up and close that gap, and you have only a few in between," explained Stephan. "So, a lot of grain companies and ag business companies in general are really trying to fast track people to fill in that gap a little bit, because a lot of people are going to lose some talent here in the next five to 10 years and we don't want to suffer because of that."
She said the number one question she has for students is whether or not they are willing to relocate. While she realizes relocation and travel can be a bit overwhelming for students, she said it is important that they recognize it as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.
While Stephan talked mostly with agribusiness students on Tuesday, she said an agriculture background is not required to get into the business. It's more importnat to be open-minded and willing to learn.
"Because we start everybody kind of on the lower level, just entry level, learning the part of our business - grain elevators, how grain is handled, etc. - we can take just about anybody in," said Stephan.
She was happy to hear that enrollment in the agriculture department at ISU is at an all time high, which is good news for the agriculture industry.
"We do need people, not just in marketing, but I know other ag companies are struggling, as well. The grain industry is not going anywhere," said Stephan. "Again, there are always going to be people that need to be fed and livestock that need food and we have to continue to find ways to do that here in the United States and that's something, again, because of that generation gap that we really need to fill."
Carrie Muehling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.