The UK-based fresh produce, retail, foodservice and hospitality trades, as well as specialist recruiters, seized the opportunity to attract and hire hundreds of eager and skilled students, graduates, school leavers and job seekers across multiple disciplines of training at The Fresh Careers Fair 2019, which was held in London Wednesday.
With attendance on the up once again this year, the fourth edition of the recruitment event for the fresh food and drink sectors — hosted by the organiser of The London Produce Show and Conference — moved to a bigger location, taking place in the Gallery Hall at the Business Design Centre in Islington.
Leading employers from the fresh produce, foodservice, hospitality and retail sectors exhibited at the one-day fair to raise their brand profile and to promote employment opportunities, such as: graduate schemes, internships, apprenticeships, summer holiday vacancies, work experience and both part- and full-time roles.
Participating produce giants included: AC Goatham & Son, Agrimessina, AMC Fresh Group, Berry Gardens, BerryWorld, Pan United, The Fresh Produce Centre, Total Produce UK and Vitacress.
Discount retailer Lidl UK and recipe box provider HelloFresh exhibited once again, alongside foodservice and hospitality greats: BaxterStorey, Chef Academy, Greene King, Hakkasan Group, Mitchells & Butlers and Searcys.
Luxury hotel groups also took part, such as: Edwardian Hotels London, Firmdale Hotels and the Quinta Do Lago Resort in Portugal.
Sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), The Fresh Careers Fair 2019 also garnered the support of specialist recruiters who assisted attendees throughout the day, including, Angel HR, Henderson Brown, FMK Consulting, MDS and MorePeople, which hosted a hugely popular CV Clinic for the first time this year.
The National Careers Service was also on hand to offer best practice guidance and tips on job seeking and interview preparation.
“I've attended recruitment fairs for the last nine years, and the quality of the people here has been much better than anywhere else!" — Sarah Fyfe, recruitment manager
The recruitment fair was attended by students and tutors from all disciplines; especially courses covering horticulture, agribusiness, post-harvest technology, international business, catering, hospitality, professional cookery, nutrition, marketing and modern languages, and also food science, food economics, food policy, food security, sustainability and environmental management.
To kickstart their careers, attendees travelled from across the UK, arriving from leading universities, such as: Imperial College London, Greenwich, Kingston, London School of Economics, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford Brookes, Reading and Warwick.
Students from specialist institutes also attended, including: Cranfield University, Harper Adams University, Royal Agricultural University, Waterford Institute of Technology, Westminster Kingsway College and Writtle University College.
CV clinic hosted by MorePeople
Total Produce UK procurement manager Ben Goodchild told PBUK he was amazed at the diversity of people looking for roles, following a busy day at the company’s stand.
“Certainly, we've had a couple of candidates for whom the company would like to find placements, ideally for a specific role, in order to snap them up,” he said. “We've seen some very bright people who are flexible in their skills and could go into four or five different roles.”
Likewise, the UK’s oldest catering company Searcys was impressed by the calibre of job seekers in attendance and their genuine interest in working in the fresh food industry.
“It's been amazing,” explained recruitment manager Sarah Fyfe. “I've attended recruitment fairs for the last nine years, and the quality of the people here has been much better than anywhere else!
“Everyone has been enthusiastic about the hospitality industry rather than just wanting a job. Everyone was confident and knew what they wanted to talk about. They have an interest in food and hospitality. They are the future of our industry.”
Part of the Fresca Group, The Fresh Produce Centre’s HR Director Barbara Findlay was enthused by the level of understanding among attendees of produce market drivers, and their interest in working in areas like the supply chain and logistics.
“Students are really understanding that consumers are driving aspects like packaging; they are looking at the market from multiple angles,” she said. “We want to place people who will add value. We are looking for people who will go the extra mile, and we have seen people today who we think could be interesting.”
MDS (Management Development Services) had a very productive experience, after holding interviews for its popular and highly regarded two-year graduate scheme, which fast-tracks participants to senior managerial positions.
“We've had a busy day with a steady stream of people,” commented marketing manager Anna Williams. “Out of six interviews, three or four candidates have made it through. Plus, we have the names of 20 people to follow up with. It's absolutely been worthwhile!”
Following an “exciting” morning, Portuguese luxury hotel resort Quinta Do Lago Resort is already planning to return with more information next year, according to the group’s Paulo Gonçalves.
“It's been very, very good,” he exclaimed. “This is the first time we've done a recruitment fair outside of Portugal. We said if we could get three good candidates it would have been worth coming, yet we've had more than 20 applications for our internship programme!”
Garlic and ginger import specialist Pan United is looking forward to inviting for interviews some of the youngsters the team met at the fair, as the expanding business seeks to fill three full-time positions.
“It's been a really productive day,” remarked Nilay Kamdar, Business Development Manager. “We have some really quality candidates coming out of today, whom we will reach out to for interviews for sure.”
Exhibiting for the first time, AMC Fresh Group also headed home with the details of potential future employees, having spoken with a diverse mix of people and talents.
“It's the first time we've attended an event like this,” said Jemma Mastrocristino, Talent Acquisition Manager. “I've been interested in a few people, and lots of people have been registering for our job alerts. We've been opening their eyes to the opportunities out there. Whether they're a nutritionist, business or culinary arts student, there's a place for them in this industry.”
Equally, AC Goatham & Son found the fair to be an ideal occasion to inform youngsters about the variety of careers available in topfruit, describing roles from agricultural engineering to finance and everything in between, including seasonal jobs.
“It's definitely been worthwhile; we've seen everyone from the average job seeker to a PhD student today,” noted Sam Smith from the Kent-based grower.
“We've learnt things too. People are really keen to have experience via internships or apprenticeships, which we can feedback to the company, as we don't offer that currently.”
Representatives from Lidl UK also found valuable the opportunity to educate students about the Lidl brand, with attendees registering a particular interest in the discount retailer’s graduate scheme.
Returning for the second consecutive year, Vitacress also highlighted the chance provided by the fair to gain access to both students and their lecturers in order to make a connection between the fresh produce industry and academia.
“Students need to know how their courses can lead into full-time jobs,” pointed out managing director Simon Conway, who revealed that Vitacress is considering launching a small-scale graduate scheme, potentially across the firm’s two sites in the UK and one in Portugal.
“Produce is quite a hidden industry, and many still think it's a ‘mud and wellies’ business. But today there are a lot of varied roles, especially with the rise in technology. We have drone pilots and thermal-imaging projects. There's a lot of science now. We also have a trained ecologist as our environment manager, which is a job that didn't exist a couple of years ago.”
“You can't Google this. There are so many roles for nutrition students — like technical manager, new product development, procurement of ingredients, labelling and legislation, etc. — but students don't look for these roles because they don't know they exist.” — Pedro Barra, course leader for human nutrition at Kingston University
Such is the importance of The Fresh Careers Fair that Kingston University cleared the timetable for its Year 1, 2 and 3 Human Nutrition students to enable them to attend and discover the breadth of job opportunities in fresh food and drink.
“You can't Google this,” commented Pedro Barra, course leader for human nutrition at Kingston University. “There are so many roles for nutrition students — like technical manager, new product development, procurement of ingredients, labelling and legislation, etc. — but students don't look for these roles because they don't know they exist.”
Two of Barra’s third-year students — Christina Norlin and Mateusz Bocian — made the most of their day; applying for summer internships at Berry Gardens and G’s Fresh through The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, as well as the MDS graduate scheme.
“It’s been useful to see who is recruiting, as you don't always see these companies advertising online,” noted Norlin. “There are lots of opportunities; it’s been good for networking and everyone has been very approachable for advice. It was also great to get a professional headshot photo for LinkedIn, as those are expensive!”
Participating in the Meet-a-Mentor programme, which was sponsored by AC Goatham, George Beach, the founder of Mudwalls Farm, thoroughly enjoyed his experience as a produce industry mentor.
“How exciting it is to see so much enthusiasm and intrigue in the fresh produce industry,” he exclaimed. “We have seen quite a scope of people; from those who are more reserved to those who might be the next produce buyer at a major UK retailer.”
Supporting mentors included:
- Amy Lance, Head of Business Development at Berry Gardens
- George Smith, Founder of Midsummer Marketing
- Tony Ganio, Managing Director of Back to Roots
- Will Sibley, Apprentice Master of The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
- Rebecca Lewis, Principal Consultant, Promar International
- Michele Ribaudo, Operations Director, Restaurant Associates
- Adria Wu, Natural Chef and Founder of Maple and Co.
- Ceri Radford, Recruitment and Training Executive for Admiral Taverns
The Fresh Careers Fair also offered a well-attended Dragon’s Den-style competition, whereby candidates pitched themselves and their career goals to a panel of either Produce Dragons or Foodservice Dragons, depending on their ambitions.
Read PBUK’s separate report on the competition winners here.
To take part in The Fresh Careers Fair 2020, email Linda Bloomfield.