A Commitment To Your Future

As I write this, PMA is putting the finishing touches on our 2009 business plans and I expect many of you are, too. I can imagine what’s in your plans — new products, market expansion, facility upgrades. Those are essential, but what about a plan for attracting and retaining leaders to manage your business in the future? If finding and developing talent is not one of your top business priorities, your other objectives may not matter in five years — and certainly won’t in 10.

It’s no secret the produce industry competes with other industries for talent. That shortage will accelerate, as the oldest baby boomers begin to retire in 2011. It is more imperative than ever to groom leaders now to first manage and then lead our produce supply chain into the future. Those of you who were at Fresh Summit in Orlando couldn’t fail to hear the steady drumbeat from industry leaders focusing on this imperative and what PMA is doing to address it.

In a recent survey, PMA members told us repeatedly that finding and keeping good, quality people is the most critical challenge facing their companies. But it’s not only about finding the right people — it’s also about connecting with the next generation, one that’s been raised on cell phones, iPods, and blogs. These younger workers also expect more professional development opportunities — and we must deliver.

So what does all this mean for you? It means now is the time to invest in professional development that educates your staff and expands their skills. It means now is the time to introduce students to your company through internships, scholarships and mentoring programs to energize and excite them about the produce industry. It means you need to grow as a leader, need to connect with new generations in the workplace and need to set an example for them.

Here are a few of the ways PMA and our Foundation for Industry Talent (FIT) are addressing these needs — and you can expect to hear much more about others in the next few months.

Next month, Produce Business and Cornell University will again sponsor the annual PMA Leadership Symposium Jan. 14-1in Dallas, brought to you by PMA FIT. Each year the symposium offers leadership training with today’s top leadership experts and designed for executives looking to take their skills to the next level. The collegial, intimate environment allows up to 100 attendees to come together to share ideas, discuss business trends, examine how to manage tomorrow’s workforce, learn how to be a maverick thinker and more. I guarantee you will walk away with a newfound passion for your business and a Rolodex full of new colleagues.

While professional development is important, it’s also critical to compete for tomorrow’s top talent. The 2-year-old PMA FIT’s mission is to attract, develop and retain talent. The most visible activity so far is the Pack/PMA Career Pathways Fund, which has had great success raising the visibility of our industry at leading colleges in the United States and abroad. In Orlando, the students, faculty, and alumni of the program highlighted the value of this outreach. Other foundation activities to date include hosting a job bank for entry- and intermediate-level positions, mentoring programs and scholarships that immerse students by bringing them to PMA’s Foodservice Conference. So far, of the students who have graduated since attending Fresh Summit on foundation scholarships, more than 50 percent have accepted positions, from marketers to buyers, with PMA member companies. That’s a remarkable success rate!

However, the foundation cannot grow without broad commitment, financial support, and participation. It will need your help to realize its future plans to create new training and education tools, a visiting professor program and other products to encourage employee loyalty and retention. PMA and many leading companies have made large financial commitments. I encourage all of you to join us now to support the foundation’s work — with your money, your time, or preferably both. Visit www.pmafit.com for more information.

We must also develop the talent we currently have. PMA recently made two exciting new additions to our portfolio of professional development tools. The PMA Advantage: Custom Training program delivers over 100 professional development courses in 17 different subject areas — from communication skills to change management — tailored to your company and delivered at your offices. E-ssentials is a Web-based produce training platform designed with and for retailers, from store associates to department managers. Its online courses are available 24/7/365, with topics ranging from the practical to the strategic.

The talent challenge is ours to take. We must make tomorrow’s leaders part of our community today. We must invest in today’s staff and encourage their long-term commitment to the industry. We must grow as individuals, both personally and professionally. PMA is here to help you prosper — because your success is ours, too.