With an ever-changing poultry industry and its unique challenges and opportunities, educators in poultry science seek to produce high-quality college graduates to fill high-quality, upwardly mobile positions in the poultry and allied industries.
This demands an understanding of characteristics, knowledge bases and skill sets deemed most important for employability and long-term career success.
Surveying the poultry industry
We asked the poultry industry what it is seeking in college students through an online survey. The survey assessed how poultry industry personnel, predominantly those in management roles, viewed the importance of characteristics, skill sets, and knowledge bases that could lead to long-term success in a poultry industry career. With the invaluable help of state poultry associations, the survey was distributed to poultry industry management in 14 states. In total, 93 respondents completed the survey.
Respondents were asked to rank from 1, signifying no importance, to 5, signifying extreme importance, their perceived importance of certain traits. Some questions in the survey also assessed the perceived importance of certain student activities while in college, and university-industry engagement opportunities.
Among inherent personal traits, work ethic was clearly perceived as the most important (rated 4.74 out of 5). This result combined with solicited comments in the survey shows a perceived concern by those in the poultry industry in identifying students with enough work ethic to achieve success in the industry. This is clearly a generational shift that should be addressed.
The challenge for those in education is the inability to “teach” work ethic. Educators, however, can play a role in disseminating the importance of work ethic for success in the poultry industry and beyond. Survey respondents also valued teamwork abilities (4.61) and initiative to work (4.55), but ranked ambition the least important personal trait (4.05).
Skills and knowledge
Survey respondents were also asked to rank perceived importance of certain skills and knowledge bases. To no surprise, the most important skill set is strong oral communication abilities (4.25). When taken together, respondents ranked oral communication skills far higher than any other skill or any of the seven knowledge bases. Interestingly, and a clear reflection of the evolution within the poultry industry, the most important knowledge base is animal welfare and behavior (3.78), which rated substantially higher than even knowledge of poultry science. Moreover, and counter to what is normally perceived, knowledge of a foreign language was ranked the least important knowledge base (2.09).
Participants were also asked their opinions on certain college-associated experiences and activities. Not surprisingly, completion of a poultry industry internship ranked highest (2.73). Conversely, completion of undergraduate research was perceived as least important (1.84). However, based on the results of this survey, respondents did not appear to place a high value overall in any of these experiences.
The last area assessed in this survey was the importance of certain university-industry engagement activities. Engaging with individual university contacts one on one clearly ranked as the most important (3.57). University-wide career fairs were perceived as the least important method for the poultry industry to engage at the university/college level (2.96).
Learning from the results
Little can be done in the educational environment to create inherent personal characteristics like work ethic. These are typically traits developed (or not developed) earlier in life.
However, there are actions that can be taken to foster positive improvements in personality traits. For example, emphasis on classroom team-building exercises can unquestionably develop some level of positive teamwork skill improvement. Further, the importance of oral communication skills for success in the poultry industry (and in other industries) is clear, and opportunities abound in the education sphere to afford students the chance to improve their communication abilities.
Not surprisingly, the two most important skill sets of oral and written communication are also the two biggest deficiency skills sets in the college student. However, efforts that focus on developing these skills can markedly improve workplace successes by contributing to a free-flowing information exchange which is important in so many aspects of the industry.