Opinion: attracting talent to the produce industry

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Opinion: attracting talent to the produce industry

By Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation director of marketing Kevin Delaney

Head Shot- Kevin Delaney _ smallOnce upon a time, I knew nothing about produce. I had no appreciation for where produce came from or how it was grown, and I didn't know anyone who worked in the industry. And, the irony is that I was a junior at St. Joseph's University studying Food Marketing.  Even though my major centered on the food industry, I knew nothing about the produce industry.

As I was beginning my senior year, I was presented with two opportunities that changed everything. First, I was interviewed for an internship at Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation in Philadelphia, PA.  I still remember the sight and feeling when I walked through their facilities for the first time. I couldn’t believe the magnitude of the operation and the electrifying pace at which everything was moving. I accepted the offer and became Procacci Brothers' first intern.

The second opportunity came a few months later when my university advisor, Jerry Bradley, recommended that I apply for the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Career Pathways Program. The program provides the opportunity for four students to travel to PMA's  Fresh Summit, walk the show floor, receive one-on-one mentoring from an industry executive, and participate in industry workshops.

This was a relatively new program for both the PMA and St. Joseph's in 2007 but today, the program has grown into one of the most successful industry-led initiatives for attracting talent into the produce industry. In fact, of the nearly 400 students who have participated in Career Pathways and have graduated, nearly 50% have either interned or become employees in the industry.

The combination of my internship and the Career Pathways Program not only attracted me to work in this industry, but I found myself telling any classmate that would listen how much opportunity existed in produce; six months earlier I knew nothing about produce and then I became an industry ambassador.

Today, I am fortunate enough to serve on the board of directors for PMA's Foundation for Industry Talent and continue to help attract, develop and retain talent in the industry. And, within the past 3-5 years, I have seen an incredible transformation with the interns we have hired at Procacci Brothers.  Students not only understand that great opportunities exist in produce, but they are starting to know who the key industry leaders are, and are contacting companies directly to inquire about internships and jobs.

I believe that small and mid-size produce companies could benefit tremendously from establishing an internship program. Long-term, these programs are a great recruiting tool that creates awareness and exposure for your company, which helps level the playing field when your company is competing for top talent against well-branded companies.

Short term, interns provide value through their energy and eagerness to learn and contribute. Their fresh perspectives can often generate new solutions and ideas for your organization.

Developing an internship program is not easy and if managed poorly can produce the opposite effect of what was envisioned. Fortunately, there are plenty of good resources out there to help you develop a strong internship program.  Reaching out to the trade organizations is always a great start. Also, organizations like DMA Solutions have created terrific guides on how to run and manage internship programs, which you can download for free directly from  their site.

I truly believe though that if you manage your internship program with the goal of producing industry ambassadors, your organization will enjoy the long-term benefits.





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