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Talent Development: An Industrywide Need

The produce industry tends to be behind the curve when it comes to talent development.

Mike Chirveno, founder of ClearVision Consulting in Kansas City, MO, said there’s not enough conversation about employee development in the industry, although “it should be a priority for everyone.”

One reason is the preponderance of family-owned businesses, which Kristen Reid, executive vice president at Mixtec Group in La Crescenta, CA, characterizes as a built-in pipeline of talent. The situation has changed over the years, however, as younger family members increasingly choose other careers.

Another factor is the changing nature of the industry.

“You’re busy working in your business, you don’t have much time to work on your business,” said Rex Lawrence, president of online job center and executive search firm Joe Produce in Granite Bay, CA.

“It’s the tyranny of the urgent,” said Chirveno, noting that weather, perishability, and other factors make this more the case in produce than in other industries.

Meanwhile, smaller companies, which dominate in produce, are less likely to focus on talent development than larger companies, especially with such razor-thin margins.

Retailers, on the other hand, are more likely to place an emphasis on talent development according to Reid. She cites Wegmans Food Markets as an example: Wegmans not only attracts and retains talent but has maintained solid profitability over the years. It is also continuously ranked among the best places to work in the country.

Still, there are signs of change. “More and more, I see a focus on talent development and mentorship,” said Amanda Griffin, senior director of education and member programs at United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, DC.

“I think mentorships are increasingly popular and companies are investing not only time but money to make this training happen. Does it tend to take a back seat to day to day? I think sometimes it must, to get through normal operations. The key is to never lose sight, then boomerang back to talent development once things settle down.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.