Two “amazing” students were recognised at The Fresh Careers Fair 2018 last week when they pitched themselves and their aspirations at the event’s Dragons’ Den-style competition on 8 March at the Kia Oval in London.
The bespoke recruitment event for the fresh food and drink industry gave any attending student, graduate, jobseeker or career changer the chance to wow either a panel of fresh produce experts or a panel of foodservice specialists, depending on their career goals.
Above all others, Catherine White, an undergraduate studying Rural Business Management at Plymouth University, and Lillianna Young, a student chef working towards an Advanced Diploma in Professional Cookery at Weston College, impressed the produce and foodservice dragons respectively with their 10-minute, elevator-style pitches.
In recognition of their standout performance, the students each won an iPad mini and went away armed with advice and guidance from the two panels of highly experienced fresh fruit and vegetable and foodservice industry professionals.
“The Produce Dragons’ pitch provided a great opportunity to practise my interview skills and speak in front of potential employers … it has given a big boost to my confidence,” White commented to PBUK following her win.
“The Dragons were really positive about my employment prospects and gave me great advice about career progression in the food industry. They highlighted that the world really is your oyster.”
Produce Dragon Rupert Carter, who is the director of technical consultancy Veritech Services, said White was “particularly competent” and “exceptionally confident."
“In just 10 minutes we gained a lot of knowledge about Catherine; she did an amazing job,” he said. “Her passion and interest shone through, as she had a good balance of confidence alongside an eager desire to learn and move forward in the industry, especially in agriculture, where her heart lies.”
Carter believes White will go far in her career, having already studied various subject areas, including rural business management, food technology and food science. “We are sure that we will see more of Catherine in the coming years, and certainly it would be good to have Catherine and her fellow candidates stay in the fresh produce sector,” he added.
Student chef Young, who plans to become a pastry chef, told PBUK she was also grateful for the opportunity to speak with and learn from leaders within the foodservice industry.
“My experience was amazing,” she enthused. “All three Foodservice Dragons were very helpful and very understanding of me and my dreams. I was so shocked when they said I had won because it’s not always easy being a chef, but they understood where I was coming from.”
Sharon Linney, operations director for Lusso (part of the CH&Co Group), described Young as the “most worthy” winner.
“It was a unanimous decision,” she explained. “Lillianna presented well and was very humble. She is an honest person who has also overcome adversity in her life.”
Young’s enthusiasm and “can-do attitude” was what struck fellow Foodservice Dragons Matt Wood, who forms part of the executive team at Restaurant Associates, and Graham Eveleigh, head of skills development for BaxterStorey.
“Lillianna was one of the most passionate candidates,” Eveleigh said. “Many had big ideas, but Lillianna was still very grounded and practical. She will have a great career in hospitality.”
Observations from the dragons
Both the produce and foodservice panels noted the high calibre of this year’s participating candidates, as well as their professionalism and dedication.
“It’s been brilliant,” exclaimed Produce Dragon Amy Lance, who works at HelloFresh UK as the firm’s head of technical. “We have had some superb people come to talk to us today.”
“Our industry is crying out for youngsters, and the quality of the students has been really high,” added Foodservice Dragon Linney. “We’ve met some amazing people, and some have travelled a long way to be here.”
Carter from Veritech Services was equally impressed with the candidates and their experience. “The level and calibre of the students that came to see us were exceptionally good,” he noted, adding that a number already had gone to the effort of taking short-term job placements, internships or part-time work in areas that complemented their studies or built on their knowledge.
Carter said the dragons were pleased to give insight into the roles, companies and career paths in which the students might thrive.
“This type of event helps to match students’ academic studies to the commercial angle of the produce industry,” he explained. “It allows the dragons to give honest feedback and appraisal, alongside industry knowledge and tips to help them pursue a role within fresh produce.”
Tony Ganio, Produce Dragon and managing director of consultancy Back to Roots, described those conversations as “fun and interesting”.
"The candidates I saw in the Dragons’ Den were generally very professional,” he commented. “In the time permitted, the panel gave as much direction as possible in terms of which area/s of the industry the candidates would fit into.”
Having participated at The Fresh Careers Fair every year since it launched in 2016, Ganio noted the busier atmosphere at this year’s edition where he lent his support as both a dragon and a mentor.
“The Meet a Mentor concept is a good idea too,” he remarked. "I spoke with a few students, and one in particular had some excellent ideas about starting a food business selling direct to the public.”