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PMA program pools efforts to develop industry talent

by Brian Gaylord | January 25, 2009
The Produce Marketing Association Foundation for Industry Talent is pooling efforts toward identifying and attracting talent to the fresh produce industry. PMA FIT has raised about $3.5 million toward its goal of $5 million.

"Philanthropy actually steps up in tough times," said Cindy Seel, executive director of PMA FIT, a nonprofit, 501(c)3 corporation that was founded in 2006 and is dedicated to ensuring a quality workforce for the industry.

PMA FIT aims to identify and nurture current and future produce professionals. It uses individual and corporate contributions to fund a number of programs, such as student-outreach initiatives, visiting industry professors, industry job bank, the PMA Leadership Symposium, Fresh Perspectives and the Tip Murphy Scholarship for Leadership Excellence.

Ms. Seel said that the fresh produce industry recognizes a need to attract quality people to the industry, and companies typically work on their own behalf to recruit talent. Perhaps the better approach is to "row together" and join forces, Ms. Seel said.

"We're tired of fighting over the same people," Ms. Seel said. "The skills required these days are so much more complex. You need to have a business background to advance these days."

Even at many well-respected agricultural schools, fresh produce is not given the attention from a career standpoint that one might expect, Ms. Seel said. PMA has a particularly strong working relationship with 13 universities around the world, she said.

She added that there is more acceptance in the industry for working together to attract talent. Companies need to get creative in their efforts, as well. "If [produce companies] aren't concerned with internship, they're crazy," Ms. Seel said.

PMA FIT hosted a career fair day at the PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando, FL, in October, and the PMA FIT program paid for selected students to attend. At least three students -- one South African and two Australians -- landed jobs as a result of attending Fresh Summit, Ms. Seel said, adding that the foundation also has placed students with retailers.

Among its efforts, PMA FIT creates videos and student brochures designed to boost interest in careers in fresh produce.

Ms. Seel acknowledged that many aspects of the talent crunch are industry- general, not company-specific. But unlike other industries, the produce industry is not positioned properly, she said.

"Like other industries, our industry will be challenged to develop our qualified talent, yet our industry has no standard against which to train our future leaders," Ms. Seel said.

The fresh produce industry can benefit from resources -- including education and models from other industries -- to strengthen its retention programs, she said.