Community College Programming Invests in the Future Ag Workforce in Illinois

Lindsay Croke

Feb 08, 2024  |  Today's News |  ICMB |  Public Outreach

According to a July FarmDoc article, Agricultural Consumer Economics Professor Mark White shares that connecting young people to a beneficial work opportunity is a critical step in building and sustaining the local labor force. To this end, IL Corn is one year into a pilot program with several Illinois community colleges that makes those connections.


In 2023, IL Corn and Highland Community College in Freeport, IL began a project to help get high school students with little to no agricultural experience plugged into an Agricultural Capstone Experience. The opportunity exposes students to skills, knowledge and careers in animals, plants, food, technology, mechanics, and the environment – and the students complete the program with 14 college credits. The program continues in 2024.


IL Corn also works with Illinois Central College on a different way to tackle the same problem. At ICC, IL Corn provides tuition-free opportunities to take a general agricultural class for students that have not declared a major. Again, our effort is to expose students that might not be considering agriculture to the agricultural jobs that are prevalent in Illinois.


“There are fewer young people in the labor market than there used to be, and we know this based on the U.S. population data. In each of our communities, I’m sure we’ve experienced that there are just fewer young people working at local diners or retail stores and that isn’t because young people don’t want to work – it’s because there are fewer young people,” said IL Corn Marketing Board Chairman Jon Rosenstiel.


“Our goal is to capture the Generation Z workers for the ag industry because without them, farmers will begin to notice that there’s no one to work at the local ethanol plant, at the local grain elevator, or even at the local implement dealer.”


L to R: Tara Desmond and Lindsay MitchellAt Heartland Community College in Normal, a new Ag Complex opened just this month. Heartland says that the 29,500 square foot facility will allow them to increase their ability to recruit and maintain agriculture students across their district, as well as inspire others to consider careers in the agriculture industry. IL Corn is proud to partner in this effort as well, investing in the curriculum and expertise needed to open the new Ag Complex in McLean County.


White further shares in his article that when career exploration, work-based learning, technical education, internships and apprenticeships prepare students for work and direct them towards opportunities that lead to careers instead of just jobs, these industries win.


“As a result, the places where local leaders—from education, non-profits, and the private sector—can connect with their current youth around meaningful career exploration and employment opportunities will likely have a stronger workforce in the future,” says White.