As part of the New England Produce Council's conference in 2018, Career Pathways students visited the Greater Boston Food Bank. ( Courtesy of NEPC )

Your life could change forever if you’re a college student chosen to attend the New England Produce Council’s Expo Sept. 18-19.

That’s not an exaggeration, organizers say. At least seven students selected for the Career Pathways program will have some very viable opportunities.

“Students who’ve gone through this program have been employed by the people they met,” said Laura Sullivan, NEPC executive director.

The program is part of the Produce Marketing Association’s charitable arm, the Center for Growing Talent, which has a mission to build student awareness about careers in the fresh produce and floral industry, said Alicia Calhoun, center vice president of talent portfolio.

The center operates 11 Career Pathway programs each year across the globe, sending faculty and students to either PMA or allied-industry conferences, with a mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the industry. 

At each conference, students reap rewards three ways:

  • Integration among the professionals at conference events to provide a broad scope of the industry;
  • A customized program with a career ambassador for a more personal, hands-on feel to delve deeper into the produce industry; and
  • An off-site industry tour to see how at least one piece of the supply chain operates and enable more questions in a smaller setting.

These experiences can spur ideas on how their school, job or volunteer experience can translate into their first post-grad job, Calhoun said. 

One key highlight is matching each student with a career ambassador from the industry. 

“A lot of times, they’ll think the produce industry is just about farmers, and that’s not what they want to do. With this program, they learn more of the business side, industry standards, food safety, marketing,” Calhoun said. 

“It’s having someone literally walking the expo floor with them, introducing them to industry members and companies and sharing the many different pieces of the supply chain.”

Building awareness about these careers opportunities is a team effort, said Barbara Hochman, program manager for Center for Growing Talent, mentioning Chesire, Conn.-based Coast to Coast Produce’s continued financial support.

“Many thanks to NEPC and our industry volunteers who, as a way of giving back, share their passion and insights, creating excitement among the students about joining our industry,” Hochman said.

The Career Pathways program has partnered with NEPC since 2009. 

When the overall program began in 2004, people may not have been talking about food safety and other challenges the industry faces today, Calhoun said. Students didn’t have many produce-focused classes in their universities, so their program had to start with the basics, she said.

“What students are learning in college since then is very different,” Calhoun said. “We’ve had to change their programming to meet their needs in 2019, so we’re not boring them and telling them what they already know.”

The seven confirmed students at NEPC are majoring in degrees such as agriculture business, agriculture sciences, international business and supply chains at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., Saint Joseph’s College of Maine in Standish, Maine, and University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.

“The program just opens their eyes to the globalness of this industry and the areas of opportunity that they’ve never thought of before,” Calhoun said. 

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