Fresh Careers Fair 2018 connects new talent with industry greats

FCF students

FCF conversation

The Fresh Careers Fair 2018 welcomed hundreds of attendees last week when it brought together all factions of the fresh produce sector to engage with high-calibre jobseekers, career changers, graduates and students plus their tutors from renowned UK horticultural, agricultural, catering and culinary colleges, as well as national universities.

Taking place in the England Suite at The Kia Oval in London on 8 March, both student and exhibitor attendance rose once again for the third-annual edition of the recruitment event, which is designed exclusively for the fresh produce, retail, wholesale, foodservice, hospitality and catering sectors. 

A broad range of businesses used the bespoke event as a platform from which to attract, meet and recruit the next generation of talent, including fresh produce leaders: Mack Fruit, Berry Gardens, BerryWorld, Richard Hochfeld and Vitacress. 

Major retailers Marks & Spencer and Lidl UK took part, alongside foodservice, hospitality and catering giants Bartlett Mitchell, BaxterStorey, CH&Co, Fuller, Smith and Turner, Greene King, HelloFresh UK, Restaurant Associates, Levy Leisure and Vacherin.

Leading hotels, restaurants and private chef agencies, plus specialist industry recruitment agencies were also present. Although the event was largely UK-focused, international companies made the trip too, such as Dolan Hotels from the Channel Islands and produce importer-distributor Cool Fresh International from the Netherlands. 

All businesses used the occasion to highlight their numerous career opportunities – from graduate schemes, internships and apprenticeships to part-time, full-time, temporary and permanent positions. Many were also simply keen to raise awareness of their brand and generate recommendations by word of mouth.

Hundreds of culinary, catering, horticultural and agricultural students and graduates attended from educational institutions including: Weston College, Crawley College, Pershore College, Morton Morrell College, Hadlow College, Harper Adams University, Cranfield University, the University of Leeds, Bournemouth University, Kingston University and London Metropolitan University, among others. 

Students and graduates came from a wide range of disciplines, including specialised courses in health and nutrition, hospitality and catering, horticulture, agriculture, agri-food marketing, food engineering and food science.

Exhibitor impressions

Lidl UK took part this year as an exhibitor for the first time. Emma Thornbery, one of the retailer’s head office-based recruiters, described as “valuable” the opportunity to talk to students about Lidl UK’s graduate scheme and work placements. 

“It’s been a really good event; we’ve had some really nice conversations with a good mix of people,” Thornbery told PBUK. “Our aim wasn’t necessarily to fill roles, rather it was about raising our brand awareness for a longer-term impact as well as driving word of mouth about the vacancies available at our head office.” 

In its first presence at a recruitment event, Berry Gardens exhibited with the objective of raising the profile of the company and the multitude of careers offered by the fresh produce industry.

“Although Berry Gardens is very well known in the field of soft fruit, we want to get our name out there on a wider scale,” said Head of HR Samantha Desforges. “We have various roles to fill in Kent, the West Midlands and Scotland. Various students from Harper Adams [University] and Writtle [University College] have been of interest, plus we’ve made useful contact with the careers advisors here. We’d like to come again next year.” 

Cool Fresh International has links with four local universities in the Netherlands and already employs three interns who are working on research projects for the firm. But more work is needed when it comes to attracting the new blood into the trade, according to Marketing and CSR Director Nic Jooste. 

“There isn’t a shortage of interns, but a shortage of interns wanting to work in fresh produce,” he explained. “My presence here is three-fold: students need exposure to the international nature of the industry, I’m keen to discuss food for the future and the role of fresh produce, plus you never know who you might meet at an event like this.”

Contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell was impressed by the mix of students and jobseekers in attendance. “The event has been very well-organised to draw in the various demographics,” pointed out HR Director Ingrid Newbould. “There are lots of different people here – some students, some jobseekers and even people at different stages of their careers, which is what we want.” 

HelloFresh UK, the ingredients delivery box subscription scheme operator, was “rushed off its feet” the entire day as attendees crowded its stand for information on the company’s range of entry-level and graduate roles from supply chain to customer support.

“We’ve been so busy,” explained Talent Lead, Mollie Rofe. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity, and we’ve seen some really excellent candidates. There is absolutely potential for some job offers to be made [on the back of The FCF] for our current openings and future graduate roles.”

Keith Stevenson, Chef Recruitment Manager for the Fuller, Smith & Turner pub group, was pleased to give out a “stack” of chef apprenticeship leaflets during the event. “We’ve had a good reception,” he noted. “Lots of people have been engaging and passionate. I’ll definitely be back next year with our front-of-house recruiter too. We want to poach the best talent, and an event like this means we can get ahead.”

Jobseeker reflections

Jobseekers attending the event were equally impressed. Beatriz Pérez Carrascosa, a food engineering Masters student on an Energy from Waste course at Cranfield University, went away feeling happy and optimistic following her experience. 

“This fair gave me the opportunity to personally contact some key people from companies I would be delighted to work with, such as Marks & Spencer, Cool Fresh, and Mack Fruit,” she told PBUK. “The mentors, the Dragons, the National Careers Service, the Fruiterers, and even the photographer, were all devoted to making valuable contributions to our careers.”

Jade Ria Talsania, a career changer and self-taught baker, went along to the event for guidance on her plans to launch an in-home catering business on the way to achieving her end goal of opening a restaurant in 10 years’ time. 

“I’ve had a really good day,” she commented. “I’m going away with business cards and information that will really help me with my future and goals. The foodservice dragons liked my thought process and recommended I get a mentor and put a business plan together.”

Recruitment activities 

Alongside the many career-focused conversations that were had, The Fresh Careers Fair’s headline sponsor The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers sought applicants for two new competitions: a summer internship with Berry Gardens, and £1,000 of prize money. The winners of both will be announced on PBUK in due course. 

Throughout the day, students, graduates and jobseekers also had the chance to enter either ‘The Fresh Produce Dragons’ Den’ or ‘The Foodservice Dragons’ Den’ to pitch themselves and their aspirations to highly experienced professionals from both sectors. 

In return, they received constructive feedback and inspirational guidance for their career paths, while the two stand-out pitches won an iPad mini each. Keep an eye out for a separate report on PBUK about the two winners. 

Mentors with backgrounds in retail, foodservice, catering, production and marketing also offered face-to-face consultations. The experts guiding the students, graduates and jobseekers included: Emma Byrne, head of fresh produce at Lidl UK; Ian Thomas, CEO of Bartlett Mitchell; Simon Boyle, Chef Founder of Beyond Food; and George Smith, managing director of Midsummer Marketing.

In addition, a team of advisors from the National Careers Service in England was on hand to direct attendees to exhibiting potential employers, in addition to offering tips on writing a stand-out CV, honing the interview technique and how to find a job. Finally, jobseekers could visit the event’s official photographer for a professional headshot to enhance their LinkedIn profiles and/or CVs. 

The Fresh Careers Fair is the recruitment event for the fresh produce, retail, foodservice, hospitality, and wholesale sectors, plus their related service suppliers.

Any organisation looking to attract the next generation of food and drink professionals by taking part in the 2019 edition, should email Linda Bloomfield.

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