Career Fair bustles as employers pitch jobs, internships

October 7, 2010

Student Kameron Richardson listens to a presentation by Zachary Smith (right), forest programs coordinator for the state Division of Forestry, and district forester James Potthoff at the Agriculture Career Fair at Purdue University on Tuesday (Oct. 5). Richardson, 18, of Danville, is a freshman majoring in natural resources and environmental science. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Keith Robinson)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Organizers of the Agriculture Career Fair at Purdue University figured 1,000 guidebooks containing the names of companies and government agencies that students would find there would be enough to last through the day.

By mid-afternoon, the guidebooks were gone. Staff working the registration table made photo copies to give to students still walking through the ballroom doors at Purdue Memorial Union.

It wasn’t difficult to estimate how many students had come to the career fair.

"We printed 1,000 (guidebooks) and ran out of them, so we had at least that many," said a smiling Lori Pence Barber, assistant director of academic programs for the College of Agriculture and one of the organizers of the Tuesday (Oct. 5) event.

Students this year had reason to feel more optimistic than those of the past few career fairs. Employment outlook for graduates in agriculture and related jobs through 2015 is better than what it was for the previous five years.

Most of the 108 exhibitors had regular positions, internships or both to offer students, Barber said. Until a couple of years ago, the annual career fair was for seniors looking for jobs upon graduation. It now is attracting underclassmen -- freshmen, sophomores and juniors -- as employers hire more interns in a struggling economy.

Employers are seeking more interns because they might be unable to commit financially to a regular position, said Allan Goecker, associate director of academic programs. He said internships also could serve as a "trial marriage" while both employer and intern determine whether the work relationship is a good fit for each other.

"Internships make sense in a good economy. They make even more sense in a bad economy," he said.

Surveys of Purdue College of Agriculture graduates show a slight increase in post-graduation success since the economy began its slide in 2008. That year, 93 percent of May graduates said they found employment or continued in professional or graduate schools. The percentage fell to 83 in 2009 but rose to 85 this year. In addition, 8 percent of May 2010 graduates said they accepted a paid internship.

More job openings are expected in agriculture and related sectors than there will be graduates through 2015. A projected 53,500 qualified graduates will be available for about 54,400 jobs annually, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that Goecker co-authored. It predicts there will be a need for 5 percent more college graduates in agricultural and food systems, renewable energy and the environment. (A summary of the report is available at

Sales and service occupations, which remain relatively stable in both good and bad economies, will continue to provide the most jobs, with nearly 26,000 opening up each year, according to the report. The career fair attracted General Cable of Highland Heights, Ky., which had openings for 8-10 sales staff in the company that makes, markets and distributes fiber optic wire and cable products.

While availability of sales, service and production agriculture jobs fluctuates only slightly in both good and bad times, jobs tied to discretionary spending such as landscaping do not fare as well in a weak economy. Goecker said.

"When the economy gets bad, what do you cut back? It’s the discretionary side versus the necessity side," he said.

His advice to students considering a career path, regardless of the economy:

"You have to look at where your passion is, where your skills are, and the occupation that will allow you to grow," he said.

Writer:  Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722,

Sources:  Lori Pence Barber, 765-494-8482,

                   Allan Goecker, 765-494-8481,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson,
Agriculture News Page

Related website:
Purdue Agriculture Academic Programs