A Systems Approach to Identify Skill Needs for Agrifood Nanotechnology: A Mixed Methods Study
30 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2013
Date Written: May 15, 2013
The purpose of this study was to identify skill needs for the emerging agrifood nanotechnology sector and to determine how agricultural education can contribute to human resource and workforce development for this sector. As nanotechnology continues to advance in food and agriculture, there is the need for pragmatic decisions as to how to prepare the workforce. This mixed methods study incorporated disparate fields of systems and complexity theories; nanoscience and nanotechnology; science policy; agricultural education; human resource development and workforce education. The study followed a four-step process involving different methods and approaches. The first phase involved a comprehensive systematic evidence review (SER) and analysis of the literature. This phase of the study also helped to identify key experts and formulate questions for the in-depth and semi-structured interviews and also quantitative survey instruments. A comprehensive stakeholder analysis was done using primary data obtained from experts.
The second phase of the study used multi-criteria approaches for value elicitation (which included qualitative and quantitative data) from key stakeholders and experts to identify current and future skill needs in the agrifood nanotechnology sector. The third phase of the study included quantitative analysis, Qualitative Systems Analysis (QSA) and Strategic Flexibility Analysis (SFA) of evidence from the literature review and the multi-criteria value elicitation of experts and stakeholders. The final phase of the study created a generic systems model from the quantitative analysis, QSA and SFA to describe holistically the current and future skill needs for agrifood nanotechnology workers as well as how educational practice and policy can meet these needs.
The main conclusions from this study are that: (1) future shortages and skills gaps in agrifood nanotechnology are expected to increase but at the same time there is still quite a lot of uncertainty about future developments and impacts of nanotechnology in the agrifood sector to accurately determine future demand and supply of agrifood nanoskilled workforce. (2) Extra demands in high qualified workers with a background in sciences and engineering (PhD, MSc) will be needed. (3) STEM education at the K-12 levels is even more important than ever and that K-12 nanotechnology programs should be a seamless part of the overall STEM initiative. And most importantly STEM education should not be devoid of employability skills. (4) In addition to various types of technical skills that come with advances in any technology, and thus nanotechnology, employability skills and competencies such as problem solving and ability to work in an interdisciplinary context are considered very important.
Keywords: Nanotechnology, Agrifood, Workforce, Complexity Theory, Skills
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