( Photo courtesy Produce Marketing Association )

There’s a Chinese proverb: “When planning for a year, sow rice. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.”
Applied to modern day, this underscores the importance professional development plays in a business’ long-term sustainability. Considering the constant change of today’s business world, companies looking to adapt and excel over the long-term need to invest in developing their people.  

Prioritizing development has actually shown to be competitive advantage. A Harvard Business study on leadership development this year found 66% of surveyed organizations that see learning and development as critical to success had a stronger market position than their competitors. That makes sense, especially given the realities of today’s workforce environment.

Produce and floral businesses are operating in a tight labor market and competing for skilled labor with better-known industries. Millennial and Gen Z workers don’t think twice about finding new jobs if the current one doesn’t offer opportunities for growth. These same young workers 10 years from now will be doing jobs that don’t even exist today, which will require new skills. 

What are you currently planning for — a year, a decade or life?

Baby boomers (our senior leaders) are retiring in droves, demanding that businesses nurture future leaders who can step up. Development programs help businesses meet all these challenges by ensuring you’ve got an adaptive workforce and a leadership pipeline capable of steering your business into a future filled with new needs and the ever-accelerating change and complexity of global business.

Company executives, however, aren’t the only ones responsible for driving professional development. Individually, we’re all responsible for driving our own careers and relevant skills. By pursuing our own learning and development programs, we show our company leadership that we have personal drive, receptivity to continuous improvement, and interest in moving up in the organization. That’s a blueprint for growth that can fast-track your career progression. 

Sure, time is of the essence in the perishables business, making us susceptible to “sowing rice,” surviving year to year. But investing in professional development is like investing in retirement. You can either take time now to “deposit” development hours little by little, banking skill sets and showing employees you value them, or else risk being bankrupted later by stalled innovation, lack of agility, high turnover and a leadership deficit. As the Harvard Business study puts it: “Organizations that don’t proactively reinvent their L&D strategy will have difficulty adapting to change, and that could put their survival in question.” Who has time for that?

Limited time is all the more reason not to waste it on one-size-fits-all programs. Our industry’s Center for Growing Talent offers industry-specific programs for individuals across the supply chain and at every career stage, from young professionals to senior executives as well as women. 

Reflect for a moment on your business and career, then consider the Chinese proverb I mentioned. What are you currently planning for — a year, a decade or life? To start banking on longevity and investing in your future, visit CenterforGrowingTalent.org or in person with CGT staff at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Orlando, Fla., in October. 

Alicia Calhoun is Center for Growing Talent vice president, talent portfolio. CGT’s mission is to provide industry-specific solutions to attract, develop and retain talent.