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Why Talent Should Be Your Top Priority


Looking for a meaningful New Year’s resolution? Resolve to make talent your top priority this year – specifically, to attract, develop and retain the fresh produce and floral talent that your stores and chain will need to survive and thrive. And good news, help is available from a source that understands the global fresh produce and floral industry.

Why should you focus on talent? Because in a high touch industry such as food and floral retailing talent is critically important, says long-time produce and floral retailer Paul Kneeland. The 35-year retail veteran is VP of fresh merchandising for Fresh Formats, a new division of Ahold USA. He is a long-time industry volunteer, and currently serves as vice chair of Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) board of directors.

“Our business is a little different because we are looking at the end user, we are selling finished products that are going to the consumer. We need to look at our business from the end user’s eyes. The sale isn’t finished until the customer comes back the next time,” says Kneeland.

As a result, talent is vitally important, Kneeland stresses. “The talent we have – in our stores and companies as well as the industry… that’s what the produce and floral industry is all about,” he says. “Bringing on people who are passionate about the industry, who are interested in doing a good job for the company they work for and for the industry, is hugely important. I think some companies don’t prioritize it enough.”

To attract top talent, “the company has to be attractive to candidates on its own – I have to be able to sell the company to a prospective teammate,” says Kneeland. “To do that, I also have to show my own passion, and encourage prospects through my own experience to come and work with us.”

Top Traits: Willing and Open

Kneeland places a high priority on a candidate’s willingness to learn and open mindedness. “Experience isn’t as high a priority as you would think. I just want people who want to learn,” he notes.

Attracting the right people then makes developing them easy, says Kneeland. “If we have people who have a passion and want to learn, the development part is easy because they are already looking for the next thing.”

Retaining top talent requires a challenge and is a team effort, says Kneeland. “There has to be a certain level of challenge in a job, or people get bored and start looking elsewhere,” he notes. “Working on a team, where everyone understands what we are doing and why we are doing it, that helps. They like going to work because they are going to create the future.”

Where to Find Help

The Center for Growing Talent by PMA (CGTbyPMA) was created to help the global fresh produce and floral industry to attract, develop and retain talent. All of its programs and services are designed with the industry’s unique and specific needs in mind. CGTbyPMA was founded by PMA in 2006, and has grown tremendously in just 10 years.

CGTbyPMA’s Career Pathways programs attract top university students to career opportunities in the industry. Programs are held in conjunction with major industry events such as PMA’s annual Fresh Summit, so that students can interact with industry members and see for themselves the industry at work.

Kneeland has mentored university students participating in CGTbyPMA’s Fresh Summit Career Pathways program for many years. “When you engage with students who are looking into the business, they learn and connect with you first,” he winks.

CGTbyPMA offers industry-specific leadership development programs designed for every stage of the “career continuum”, from young professionals to mid-level managers, to emerging leaders and senior executives. Its Women’s Fresh Perspectives programs specifically focus on advancing the industry’s female talent, and include an annual women-only conference. Kneeland has sent employees to CGTbyPMA’s Emerging Leaders Program for the past three years.

“The produce industry’s future is in development of our industry leaders,” says Kneeland. “With the amount of programs that CGTbyPMA has, it’s a no brainer for the industry to tap in to what they have to offer.”

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