Ag. Skills Survey: Skills Sought by Employers in the Agricultural Industry

By Dr. Sharon Freeman, Dr. Avery Culbertson, Dr. Steven Rocca, Dr. Rosco Vaughn, Cameron Standridge, Jasmine Flores, and Morgan Henson

Work ethic was rated as the most important skill for agriculture employees by employers. An Ag. Skills Survey was recently conducted to identify agriculture skills that employers are looking for today in the agricultural industry. This information was needed for the development of the Agricultural Career Readiness Skills Certificate Pathway for the 21st Century (ACRS21), which was designed to support soft skills and career readiness practices for agriculture students. This $1 million USDA Hispanic Serving Institution Grant was awarded to faculty members from California State University, Fresno and Texas A&M, Kingsville who are working together to create the transferrable pathway. The ACRS21 Certificate recognizes students’ experiential learning activities and awards them an industry-backed certificate as proof of their career readiness development. Examples of experiential learning include public speaking, leadership involvement, job shadowing, and supervised agriculture projects.  

The survey included 19 questions to determine general information about the employer, type of business, and their willingness to provide career development opportunities for students. To facilitate a peer-to-peer communication chain, members of the ACRS21 Ag. Industry Subcommittee, including agriculture industry representatives, USDA agencies, commodity groups, Farm Bureau staff, and educational leaders utilized their personal contact lists to introduce the survey to agricultural employers.  This word of mouth approach proved very effective in dispersing the survey.  Faculty members and students at Fresno State grouped the survey responses into different categories, identified by particular codes. Participants represented 117 different employers, which resulted in 2,106 individual responses to the survey. Table 1 includes the Overall Top 10 Skills and a breakdown by educational level for high school (HS), community college (2-Year), and university (4-Year) representing each level of the certificate pathway. Work ethic was included in the top three skills for HS, 2-Year, and 4-Year, making it the most valuable overall skill needed in today’s workforce. Communication, dependability, task oriented, and life-long learners were also skills rated in the top five overall. 

Figure 1 shows that upper-level positions need employees with additional agriculture industry knowledge and leadership skills, while lower-level employees need dependability, life-long learner, positive attitude, time management, and work ethic skills. Task oriented and written communication were the skills that ranked the highest for the mid-level positions.  In addition, several skills were more evenly required across all position levels such as, ambition, critical thinking, teamwork, and computer technology. The technical skill areas that employers identified the most often included computer technology skills (131), agriculture mechanics and machinery (109), and plant production (77). 

Figure 1 

Frequencies for Overall Top 15 Ag Skills per Educational Level 

Agricultural teachers can help their students develop soft skills and career readiness practices by encouraging them to open the ACRS21 Certificate Pathway in AET through the Application Manager. There is no charge, the requirements are built into normal FFA activities, and the ACRS21 Certificate is backed by employers in the agricultural industry. 

For information regarding the ACRS21 Certificate Pathway, please contact Dr. Sharon Freeman at, or refer to the following two websites: 

AET website – 

Fresno State website –

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

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