The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) is working to build a stronger relationship with the next generations of talent in the UK in a bid to ensure that career starters, whatever their skills or interests, are aware of the diverse and rewarding opportunities offered by the fresh produce industry. Ahead of the FPC’s sponsorship of The Fresh Careers Fair 2019 this month, CEO Nigel Jenney gives PBUK a sneak peek into the new recruitment initiatives being rolled out by the UK’s fresh produce trade association.
“The FPC wants fresh produce to become the sector of choice for students in the future,” Jenney reveals. “With the current challenges commercially and surrounding Brexit, on behalf of the industry we are looking to ensure that youngsters fully understand the fantastic opportunities and job prospects presented by the fresh produce industry for a very broad range of skills.”
From the get-go, Jenney points out that quite often students and graduates are not truly aware of the diverse range of employment opportunities within the fresh fruit and vegetable trade.
“When I’ve spoken with students in the past, there is a level of ‘Wow, I didn’t realise the breadth of opportunity in the food sector, in general’,” he points out. “We want students to know that the fresh produce trade presents an opportunity to use those skills and interests they never thought would apply to the fresh food industry.”
Although Jenney accepts the outlook for the trade is not without its difficulties, he remains resolute about the positive prospects that working in produce has to offer youngsters, which is why they need to be aware of the possibilities as they begin to deliberate their career path.
“It’s imperative for any business in any sector to have succession planning in place, and to be attractive to the younger age profile. But I think we face a challenge [in produce]; in recent years, there have been other businesses that have been considered to be more attractive.
“The industry is committed to its ongoing expectation of securing talented people from around the world, although Brexit may make that a little more difficult. The whole fresh produce sector is very keen to attract new, committed and dynamic individuals into their businesses.
“Companies want to attract those young individuals that will be their business leaders of the future. But it’s a challenge for all businesses, and it’s up to those individual businesses how they present their opportunities to potential employees, and how they can offer a modern working environment to develop employees’ skills and knowledge.”
Just as society is adapting to the increasingly digital age, so too the produce industry is undergoing continuing shifts to modernise and remain at the forefront. This is presenting exciting and wide-ranging job prospects for both new and existing roles of which youngsters may not be aware.
“We are a very dynamic and globally based industry,” Jenney explains. “There is an opportunity for young individuals to develop and progress no matter what their particular skills and interests are, which I think is highly unusual. You may choose to move to another company, but you will still be working in the global food sector.
“I don’t think there is anything more rewarding than working in a business that is highly dynamic and one that is producing great food in an ethically and sustainable environment. It’s very much an environment in which many young people would wish to work at this moment in time.”
Strengthening educational ties
To that end, the FPC is focusing on building a stronger relationship with the very institutions in the UK that are responsible for educating and nurturing future generations of talent.
“As the industry’s trade association, we are looking to build stronger links with colleges and universities in the UK to attract high-quality people with a range of interests and skills to a diverse industry,” he explains.
Although the FPC already works closely with a number of colleges and universities across the country, its new objective aims to go further. Indeed, there is an additional exciting plan in the pipeline at the FPC, although Jenney is unable as yet to comment on the details.
“This is about promoting awareness and knowledge about the transferrable information and skills that students can take from their academic careers into a practical application in the fresh produce industry.
“We want to highlight that fresh produce is a rapidly changing and dynamic industry that has a range of opportunities to fit everyone’s interests; whether that’s engineering, agronomy, specialist IT and much more.
“There is different set of skills that is required that goes beyond the supply of labour needed for harvesting or working in packhouses.”
On that note, later this year the FPC plans to organise an event highlighting the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the produce business.
“This event is about promoting awareness in the industry about what AI and robotics can do for your business because the opportunity is closer than we all think,” Jenney says. “Although we have an ongoing and serious challenge for some time to come in terms of labour and availability, meeting that challenge will require us to adopt these technologies as rapidly as possible.”
Widely recognised as the voice of the UK industry, the FPC plays a unique and crucial role in creating opportunities, defending livelihoods and supporting the growth of its more than 680 members' businesses.
With that in mind, the FPC is once again headline sponsoring The Fresh Careers Fair next month – the specialist recruitment event for the fresh food and drink industry.
“Our commitment to support The Fresh Careers Fair in our view is a key part of the FPC’s aim to ensure that young people are attracted to the fresh produce industry, and, ultimately, that they enjoy a fantastic and long career in the sector,” Jenney explains.
The FPC will participate as an exhibitor at the show where Jenney and two other FPC team members, Jenny Palmer and Cristina Melenchon, will meet and chat with the students and job seekers in attendance to explain the diverse career options available across the fresh produce, cut flower and pot plant sectors.
On top of that, Jenney will take part as a fresh produce panelist in a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style competition that will give the young attendees at the fair a chance to practise their interview technique, and to pitch their career ideas to a panel of industry experts.
“I’ve been privileged to be invited to participate as a dragon for the past three years, and I’ve always been extremely impressed by the quality of students, as well as their commitment and ability at such a young age,” he notes. “The students I’ve spoken to have been excellent.”
The Fresh Careers Fair is the annual recruitment event for the fresh produce, retail, foodservice and hospitality sectors.
The 2019 edition takes place on 13 March at the Business Design Centre in north London.
For more information, email: [email protected]