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Careers in Produce: High-growth sectors

pbp sept23 careers

The increasing use of technology has led to growth in fresh produce positions related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Technology roles, including hardware and software, and engineering roles continue to become more important as our industry’s use of tech is more and more prevalent,” says Rex Lawrence, president of Sacramento, CA-based Joe Produce, LLC, BB #:364007.

“The growth in technology companies that serve the industry has expanded opportunities into some really innovative directions like robotics, shelf life extension, regenerative agriculture, and even beekeeping,” says Kristen Reid, executive vice president at MIXTEC Group {{BB #:152072}}, an executive search and recruiter located in La Crescenta, CA.

Anything involving data is in high demand, Kevin Brooks, chief revenue and marketing officer at Procurant {{BB #:355257}} in Watsonville, CA, says, whether it’s a position with a retailer in need of a better ecommerce solution or a grower-shipper wanting to improve processes to save water or maximize efficiencies in transportation.

“Information is a much more valued asset,” he points out, and anyone who is adept at practical data applications and can use information to improve processes, enhance efficiencies, and reduce costs is more valuable than ever.

He cites as examples data analysts, people at the front lines of customer service, and those versed in the burgeoning use of different mediums—text, web, TikTok—to help spur purchase decisions.

“I do think people are waking up to the opportunities in the industry,” adds Brooks. “Food tech is hot, ag tech is hot. There’s been an uptick in the number of people aware of and interested in food technology compared to pre-Covid.”

Cybersecurity is also a big challenge in the industry, with awareness rising about the issue as more companies get hit, which is leading to expanding opportunities for IT professionals.

Technology expertise is also a skill that can be applied to another increasingly in-demand employment need: sustainability. More jobs related to sustainability are popping up throughout the industry, with larger companies creating departments fully devoted to sustainability.

Addressing industry challenges

Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association BB #:153602 in Ottawa, ON, believes the best way to identify employment opportunities is to look at the current issues and challenges faced by the industry. Sustainability is a good example, as retailers are increasingly demanding suppliers operate sustainably.

“A few years ago, it was food safety and quality assurance, and now that’s part of every company’s structure,” he says.

“Now it’s sustainability. It’s creating a whole new market for young professionals. Right now, an existing employee is handling sustainability, or the company hires a consultant. But eventually companies will have to have a sustainability person in-house, just like they did with food safety.”

Sustainability jobs run the gamut from finance—as companies adjust borrowing practices to fit environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals—to operational tasks such as creating efficiencies across the company.

This is an excerpt from the cover story in the September/October 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.