Published on 02/12/03

In tough economy, many jobs there for the plucking

By Cat Holmes
University of Georgia

Drew Chrisohon, a recent University of Georgia graduate, wasn't worried about whether he'd find a job. The problem he faced was which job offer to accept.

The economy is soft and the job market hurting. The U.S. Labor Department reported 5.7 percent -- 8.3 million people -- of the nation's labor force unemployed last month.

But Chrisohon, with a poultry science degree, recently fielded five serious job offers before accepting a management trainee position with ConAgra at their Canton, Ga., complex.

"I didn't even look very hard," the Comer, Ga., native said. "I haven't ever worried about finding a job in this field. Everyone eats chicken. If there's a depression, people will continue to eat chicken because it's such a deal."

Not unique

Chrisohon is a good student and "a great guy," said UGA poultry science department head Mike Lacy. But he's not unique.

Though he has no hard figures, Lacy said there are probably three jobs for every poultry science graduate coming out of UGA, based largely on the number of companies calling his department.

"We tell students that if they want to stay close to home, the Georgia poultry industry has a place for you," he said.

"We also say, 'Become a poultry scientist and see the world,' and it's no joke," he said. "We have had recent graduates take jobs in Thailand, Latin America, Canada and England. Poultry jobs are available all over the world, and there are an estimated 100,000 jobs in poultry in the state of Georgia alone."

Jobs aren't limited

The jobs aren't limited just to those with science degrees, he said.

"There are a variety of ... business-related jobs," Lacy said. "Some of our graduates go into pharmaceutical sales. Some take on environmental issues. Some work with farmers, helping them to make a better living. Others go into some aspect of poultry processing, product development or food safety."

Poultry science graduates can expect to enter the job market making a salary in the mid-$30,000 range, he said.

While Chrisohon fielded job offers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other companies, he finally settled on the job with ConAgra in early February.

Coming full circle

"It's all still new to me," Chrisohon said. "The great thing about working in a complex such as the one in Canton is that I'll be able to go through and learn about the hatchery, feed mill, live production and the plant."

Chrisohon's very first job when he was 15 was as a general laborer at a broiler farm with eight chicken houses. But he wasn't eager to pursue a poultry career when he started college.

"I didn't appreciate it when I was a teenager," he said with a laugh. "All my friends were working at pizza places and I was working my tail off."

Chrisohon went to Young Harris College and majored in business. But he just didn't like it, so he transferred to UGA, took a number of agricultural business classes and ended up with a poultry science degree. So far, it's proven to be a good move.

Cat Holmes was a science writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.