Ag expo exposes students to array of available jobs
By Deborah Griffin
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Hoping to grow interest in agriculture, experts at a regional expo on Wednesday gave high school students a glimpse into the array of career opportunities available within the industry.
More than 1,100 students from 13 counties — including several from Pitt County — attended this year’s Northeast Regional Agriculture Expo in Martin County.
The expo, held annually at the Senator Bob Martin Eastern Agriculture Center, is in its sixth year. Eighty vendors displayed informational booths showing students the diversity of agriculture-related careers.
Pitt County students attended from Farmville Central, North Pitt, D.H. Conley and Ayden-Grifton high schools.
According to D.H. Conley’s Shelley Armour, eastern North Carolina has a need for its students to return to the area after they graduate college.
“Part of the problem in our region is students go off to Raleigh to school; they leave for school and don’t come back," said Armour, agri-science teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser. "The agriculture companies (here) need them to come back. This exposes students to what is available in this area."
“Also, high school can be isolating. This shows them there are other students that may interested in what they are interested in,” she said.
Event organizer Mack Hodges said students and teachers are invited to come and learn about what is on the horizon for the industry.
“A lot of these students think there is no future in agriculture. But we are trying to educate them that there are numerous opportunities,” he said.
Hodges is the district field representative for North Carolina Farm Bureau, which sponsors the event.
“Agriculture is constantly changing just like technology," he said. "We want the students to be on the cutting edge of what is new and what is upcoming in the future.
“There is a moral demand for agriculture now — for more folks to help feed the world — more than ever," Hodges said. "Urban sprawl has taken away a lot of land. We’ve got to have these folks engaged in whatever way we can in agriculture to keep this industry growing."
The students who attended the Ag Expo are in an FFA curriculum or in agricultural eduction classes, he said. The expo helps connect students to those in the ag industry and allows them to network.
“Many businesses and industries are recruiting rising seniors,” Hodges said. “We also have numerous schools and colleges here looking for good students to be enrolled in their agriculture curriculum."
Hodges said the expo is made possible because of North Carolina Farm Bureau and the farm bureaus in each of the 13 counties.
“They help sponsor the students that attend the event,” he said. “They pay $14 per student to attend the event, which includes lunch, a T-shirt.”
Vendors included community colleges and state universities. From Pitt County, Vidant Medical Center, Grady-White Boats and Pitt Community College had displays.
Alvin Frazier, PCC’s recruiting coordinator for construction and industrial technology spoke to students who stopped by the his booth about the dwindling workforce in the trade industry, which includes plumbers and heating and air ventilation workers.
Frazier taught drafting for 34 years in Pitt County Schools, where it is no longer offered, along with other trade classes, such as automotive.
“We have taken a lot of trades out of our high schools," he said. "These kids are not learning what we drastically need. We are way behind in trade education. Fifty-seven percent of the job market (is for) people with two-year degrees that are skilled, hands-on laborers.
“And if we don’t do something, we are really going to be in poor trouble," Frazier said. "About 53 percent of Greenville Utilities will be retiring in the next five years. How are we going to replace these people if we don’t start training people? We continue to think that everybody needs a four-year degree and that is only 34 percent of the job market.
“I ended up at Pitt Community College because we had kids that needed to read blueprints," he said. "Everything we do in building and construction is all wrapped around blueprints. They weren’t getting trained in high school."
Frazier said he is a big advocate for vocational education.
"It is the backbone of our country," he said. "We need to teach our children how to make a living. Are we going to do away with electricity? No. We are going to need electricians. Are we going to do away with heating and air? No. That’s the kind of thing we need to look at."
According to Hodges, the ag expo started as a single-county event in Beaufort County and has grown to include 13 counties.
“We are trying to educate these students in what is available to them in the future in agriculture. And not only educate them, but give them the tools to be successful while we have them here,” he said.
Hodges said he sees the future of agriculture continuing to be a viable option for many of them.
“You see all the smiles on these shining young faces?" he asked. “I think the future is every bright."