CHICAGO — Several trends are changing the patterns of employment in rural and farming communities.

“Farming communities are dependent not only on agriculture, but also the plants that were often built in those communities to take advantage of the workforce of the spouses in a farm family,” said Peter Creticos, Institute for Work & the Economy president and executive director.

Trends that are impacting employment include environmental challenges, growing global populations, new markets, changing customer tastes and preferences and conflicting regulation with respect to GMOs, said Creticos during the “Where’s the Workforce? Attracting Talent in a Changing Agri-Food Landscape” event organized by the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance.

“I am seeing the separation of research from development,” said Creticos, who founded the Chicago-based institute, which is a research collaborative specializing in workforce and economic development polices and practice.

“So, the research is occurring in one place, but the actual process of moving it to market is occurring somewhere else,” he said. “Often this is due to a buyout.”

There also are changes happening in use of machinery, and the concern is machines are replacing people.

When thinking about opportunities and future challenges, Creticos said, “we spend too much time talking about how we fix the worker and much less time trying to figure out what we can do about the business models that drive a lot of jobs.”

When major businesses invest in research and development by purchasing other businesses, Creticos said, they do very little research and development internally.

“That strips out the entire middle management and, as a result, cuts the cost of what they’re making rather than produce something new,” he said. “That has an effect all the way down to the supply chain and this occurs in a broad range of industries.”

The institute a few years ago studied suppliers to farm and construction equipment manufacturers in Iowa.

“We did see a significant amount of research and development occurring in the supply chain, which means these companies can afford to pay better because their value to the company was price, quality and innovation,” Creticos said. “This is going to be a growing challenge as our major manufacturers face competitions.”

Jobs that are least likely to be subject to automation, he said, are jobs that have tasks linked to perception and manipulation, tasks that are in tight spaces, conditions that require thought behind manipulation, tasks that require fine action by human hands, tasks that require creativity and tasks that require social intelligence such as negotiation.

“As communities look to develop businesses and encourage their investment in facilities, they should look for businesses that maximize these kinds of tasks because they are the ones that will probably be sustainable over time,” Creticos said.

“One of issues we have in the workforce is we forget that rural people often talk about themselves in terms of what they do,” he said. “For us to tell people they have to change their identity by changing careers like you change clothes every morning misunderstands them.”

Those engaged directly in production agriculture because of the nature of that work have skills.

“So, you have a population that is imbedded in the work they do, and the challenge is to translate that into other industries,” Creticos said.

For more information about the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, go to: www.ilagrifood.org.

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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