Our industry’s future is at stake because of the lack of available and qualified talent. 

The Labor Department predicts a concerning 35 million worker shortage by 2035. 

Planting seeds for the industry’s futureIn response, a number of forward thinking leaders formed the Produce Marketing Association Education Foundation in 2005 — now called the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent. 

The foundation develops today’s leaders throughout the global supply chain, while attracting bright talent and nurturing future industry leaders. 

Several industry leaders with different foundation involvement came together to discuss the value of the program and what it means for the industry’s future. Jay Pack, whose family’s major contribution started the Pack Family Career Pathways program, guided the discussion.

Pack: The foundation engages in activities such as reaching out to college students through our Career Pathways scholarship programs, career ambassadors who connect with students at PMA’s expos and in classrooms, and numerous information resources and networking opportunities. 

Planting seeds for the industry’s futureMike, you’ve been involved with the foundation as a career ambassador — what is the value of that program?

O’Brien: It’s invaluable. The Pack Family Career Pathways program at Fresh Summit — and the smaller regional programs — bring top food marketing and agribusiness students, as well as a few from select other programs, and their faculty, to industry events to connect to information, networking and education. 

The exposure to the industry often influences a student’s decision to stay in or pursue a career in our industry. George Szczepanski is a good example of one of the program’s graduates.

Szczepanski: The program was absolutely a catalyst to my pursuing a career in the industry. 

Through the Pack Family Career Pathways program at the 2004 Fresh Summit, I had exposure Planting seeds for the industry’s futureto key industry people, walked the show floor with a mentor, and got a real feel for the industry. 

Before my involvement, I had few opportunities to see produce as a career option. Without this chance, I may have never realized how good a fit the industry was for me. 

It remains a crucial program for attracting talented graduates to our industry.

Pack: The Career Pathways program generated its first success story of 2011 with the hiring of program alumna Rachel Cueto by Taylor Farms. 

Rachel, how did you get involved with the foundation and how did it lead you to Taylor?

Cueto: While studying at California Polytechnic State University, I attended PMA’s 2010 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition on a scholarship from the Pack Family Career Planting seeds for the industry’s futurePathways program. 

The experience exposed me to the entire fresh produce chain. Additionally, I met several influential people, built relationships with other students in the program, and was introduced to potential employers. 

This scholarship opportunity ultimately led to my decision to pursue a career in the industry.

Pack: The foundation continues to develop programs to attract and enhance industry talent.

The most recent example is the PMA Foundation’s Emerging Leaders Program, developed in partnership with Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Planting seeds for the industry’s futureTaylor: This initiative is designed to prepare and encourage our industry’s next generation of leaders to assume greater responsibility in our industry. 

The four-day program addresses industry-specific topics and hones skills spanning the entire business spectrum.

Pack: As with any program, funding is always a necessity. 

Bruce, as one of the foundation’s donors, you’ve supported these programs financially and you hired Rachel. I guess that speaks to the value of the programs in your eyes.

Taylor: Absolutely! People have always been the most valuable resource in our industry and we must invest in this resource if we want to have viable, innovative businesses in the future. 

In fact, Taylor Farms has hired two former Pack Family Career Pathways graduates.

Participation in these programs ensures the brightest upcoming talent has access to our industry and can consider it a valid career option. 

The foundation programs are funded by industry contributions and I encourage everyone to commit to support the foundation today. Don’t wait until we’ve lost out on a great emerging talent pool.

Pack: Since the Pack Family Career Pathways program began in 2004, 240 students have received scholarships through the program. Of those who have graduated from college, almost 50% have accepted internships or full-time positions in the industry. 

To learn more about the foundation, visit www.pmafit.com

Jay Pack is chief executive officer of The Pack Group, Dallas; Mike O’Brien is vice president of produce and floral for Schnuck Markets, St. Louis; George Szczepanski is sponsorship and exhibit sales manager for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.; Rachel Cueto is a retail saleswoman for Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif.; and Bruce Taylor is chief executive officer of Taylor Farms.

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