Is Higher Education Going to the Dogs (and Cats)?
Usually one trend impacts another. If self-driving cars are taking over, then most likely artificial intelligence, data mining, radar technology, and lithium battery development are trending positively. Much of my research this past year focused on Generation Z or iGen (those approximately 16 to 22 years of age) and Millennials. These individuals, along with aging Baby Boomers, are fueling growth of the pet food, pet product, and pet service industry. The pet industry alone in the U.S. was estimated[i] to be over $73 million in expenditures, double the number from 2005, with the average annual cost to own a dog at $1,816[ii].
A recent article showed that, compared to previous generations, many Millennials are putting off having children and raising their pets as their first child[iii]. As a result, the pet food industry has created more nutritious products. With the cost of pet surgeries on the rise and the number of vet visits increasing[iv], insurance companies have created policies and plans for owners insuring their pets, just as they would a human family member.
Similarly, as Millennials increasingly access tech-driven solutions promoting healthy lifestyles like quick access to fresh and nutritious meals, personalized eating plans for food sensitivities, and smart-tech to track physical activity and wellbeing, they’re also investing in emerging pet-care counterpart services like meal delivery services PetPlate and The Farmer’s Dog, PupJoy for tailored treats, and smart trackers FitBark (yes, really) and Toletta.
While no official number exists, the number of emotional support and service animals traveling aboard airlines has increased significantly[v] with nearly 2 million pets, comfort animals, and service animals boarding flights.
With such significant societal changes happening around pets, the question remains, “What role does higher education have in the pet care market?”
A review of EMSI[vi] data shows the following:
- While average wages are low, the pet care (excluding veterinary) services industry will grow by 34% from 219,148 jobs in 2018 to 293,970 in 2028.
- The field of veterinarians, veterinary technologists and technicians, and veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers pays relatively well and is expected to grow by 20% from 298,484 in 2018 to 358,539 in the next ten years.
- Other occupations such as animal control worker, animal trainer, and animal breeder are expected to grow by 4% and 10% by 2028.
In addition to social sharing businesses such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and TaskRabbit, the new economy also has many newer professions that aren’t necessarily officially recorded in labor statistics or job analytics. Many of these jobs are merged in other occupations, such as pet therapy being part of health services, hospice or counseling. Other jobs such as those provided by Wag and Rover dog walking services are often not counted as they are part of the gig economy, where these may be second jobs or non-classified primary occupations.
With societal change being so dramatic regarding pet care and having huge economic impact, the role of higher education could be as follows:
- Review of professions where a degree is required. While many science jobs are expected to grow, colleges and universities need to review supply and demand for degrees related specifically to pet care. In addition, given how connected owners have become with their pets, greater exploration may be needed regarding certification of many other veterinarian-support professions. While no formal degree is required to be a veterinary assistant, training and education are highly encouraged and could serve as a pathway to better employment. Some higher education institutions have also started certificate programs to better train in related professions. Certifications could also be expanded to pet therapy and other highly specialized counselor/therapist niches.
- The health and nutrition of pets may follow an education and credential pathway similar to that for those employed in the food sciences. Many food scientists work within the pet food sector and already require undergraduate or graduate degrees, often in biology, chemistry or food science or processing. However, many seek additional training in various safety, processing, and preparation techniques, some of which are specific to pets.
- Parallels to the health insurance industry could be applied to the pet ownership sector. In fact, over 2.1 million pets were insured in the U.S. and Canada in 2017[vii]. Similar to human populations, data analytics and actuarial sciences can be applied to the health, risk, and death of animals. These techniques used in one sector could be applied to another sector. In addition, the marketing of health insurance or health services to pet owners may also yield new opportunities for higher education.
- Certifications may also be needed in the design and engineering of facilities serving pets or the transportation of pets. There is also greater discussion on college campuses regarding pet-friendly areas and housing. The same is true for public facilities, as well as lodging, especially as iGen and Millennials become more influential in society.
- As pet parents seek ways to care for, and pamper, their pets and incorporate them into their day-to-day lives, universities can consider cross-departmental approaches to related course and program development. Entrepreneurs in the pet care space are applying disciplinary knowledge from engineering, architecture, logistics, psychology, nutrition, interior design, life sciences, hospitality, marketing, and information science.
- While busy professional Millennials seek to provide their pets with care and recreation during the day, Boomers are finding new ways to apply their years of professional wisdom and skills to meet the growing demand. Universities may consider offering related topics in programs for retiring pet-lovers seeking opportunities for flexible, meaningful, active “encore careers.”
- Other opportunities for badging or certification may evolve with the grooming, boarding or even the fashion of pets. New product development or marketing techniques and related training curriculums and programs could be better focused on the pet care products industry.
As author and educator Ana Monnar once said, “Our pets are our family.” Educational systems, degrees and credentials have been built to impact our families, improve the quality of life and address societal problems. As a societal focus increases on one sector over another, colleges and universities have opportunities to pivot their products and services accordingly. The pet care and ownership sector, like many other industries and sectors, will offer greater possibilities for campus-based programs, as well as professional, continuing and online education. It just needs to be researched, understood and developed … or it should be left to the hungrier dogs.
[ii] Grandstaff, M., “This is how much it really costs to own a dog per year,” USA Today, August 24, 2016.
[iii] Hanbury, M., “Millennials are treating pets like ‘their firstborn child,’ and it’s reportedly causing problems for some of the best-known pet food brands,” BusinessInsider, November 12, 2018
[iv] APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 2017-18
[v] Jansen, B., USA Today, July 16, 2017.
[vi] EMSI, 2019
[vii] The State of the Industry, North American Pet Health Insurance Association, 2018.
Lead consultant Jim Fong, the founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, has extensive background in marketing at Penn State, as well as experience in private industry. Jim brings a rich understanding of the dynamics driving today’s higher education leaders, providing research-driven strategy and positioning. Jim often presents at UPCEA’s regional and national conferences, sharing vital information with attendees.
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