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Master of Agribusiness

Preparing Industry Leaders: An Evaluation of Former AFA Participants’ Workplace Skills

Leslie Shuler Svacina, a native of Oneida, Wis., defended her thesis, “Preparing Industry Leaders: An Evaluation of Former AFA Participants’ Workplace Skills,” Monday, April 20, 2009. Svacina is the Communications Director at Minnesota Agri-Growth Council in St. Paul, Minn. She graduated from Kansas State University in May with a Master’s in Agribusiness (MAB).

Agriculture Future of America (AFA) has been helping college students prepare for careers in the food and agriculture industry for more than 10 years.  Positive feedback from participating students and employers has led to the belief in an “AFA Advantage,” where participants have an advantage over their peers when entering the workforce due to their AFA involvement.  For her MAB thesis project, Svacina conducted research to determine if there is an “AFA Advantage,” by measuring former participants’ workplace skill sets, as determined by agribusiness employers.

Svacina surveyed past AFA participants by asking them to self assess their skill levels in core competencies and self-compare their skills levels to those of peers who did not participate in AFA. The seven core competencies included in the study were: interpersonal communication skills critical thinking skills, writing skills, knowledge of general business management, quantitative analysis skills, cultural/gender awareness/sensitivity, and oral presentation skills.

“As the baby boomer generation begins to retire, business/industry is starting to feel a squeeze on competition for prime human capital. Succeeding generations are considerably smaller, making it a challenge for businesses to meet specific human capital needs in sourcing and hiring qualified individuals,” Svacina said. “AFA has been working to meet those needs for the food and agricultural industry. Based on self-reported evidence, I found that AFA is helping provide its participants with the professional competencies desired by agribusiness employers.”

Her results suggest there is a self-reported advantage for AFA participants over peers who were not involved in AFA. Survey respondents agreed that AFA provided them with stronger workplace skills than their peers.

Andrew Barkley, Agricultural Economics professor and Svacina’s thesis advisor, said, “Leslie’s research demonstrates that students who participate in the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) possess a self-reported “AFA Advantage” over other students. Her research demonstrates a strong linkage between student involvement in activities and career skills.”

The full thesis publication can be found online on K-State’s Research Exchange at http://hdl.handle.net/2097/1349.