We wrote this piece in San Francisco after we spent a little time visiting with Matthew Enny, a relatively new member of the produce industry who works for Duda Farm Fresh Foods. We gave him a pass to visit with us at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco where Pundit sister publication, DELI BUSINESS, has long exhibited.
Matthew Enny is something of a poster boy for the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent (PMAFIT). He went through the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund, which brings promising students to the PMA convention each fall, and he eventually took a position with Duda working in Salinas. To put it another way, he is a living, breathing example of what PMAFIT is trying to do — raise awareness of the produce industry among college students so that they will consider careers in produce.
Last year, Matt attended the Leadership Symposium in Dallas, which is produced by a partnership between PMAFIT, Cornell University and PRODUCE BUSINESS — and we wrote about the Symposium here , here, here and here. And last year, we wrote here about his attempt to blog about the Symposium.
Matt came back this year to give the Symposium another try. In chatting with Matt we learned that, still working for Duda, he had relocated to San Francisco, which is how we came to suggest him broadening his horizons in the food industry by checking out the Fancy Food Show.
Yet in the fact that Matt is now living in San Francisco, we found an important lesson about the limitation of the PMAFIT effort and the type of change that is likely to be required if the industry is going to be successful at attracting and retaining quality employees.
Matt is a young, single man, and he requested permission to relocate to San Francisco because he wanted to have a more active social life than he found possible living in Salinas.
He is proud to represent Duda and thinks the world of Bob Gray, Duda Farm Fresh Food’s CEO, and he didn’t really mind Salinas and might well move back there one day. Although Matt spoke only of “a more active social life,” we suspect he wouldn’t mind finding a wife and then moving back to Salinas to settle down and raise a family.
Obviously Duda thinks highly of Matt, as the company was willing to make a deal with him. He is working from home but will spend one week a month back in Salinas.
The arrangement is also facilitated because San Francisco is only a couple of hours from Salinas and, in a pinch, they call Matt at 6:00 AM and he will be in the office before 9:00 AM.
And finally, Matt’s job, which involves a lot of number-crunching, doesn’t require him to be in the office.
Still, the important point is that an accommodation had to be made, and Duda made it. This is in line with the column we wrote recently in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, titled Attracting Talent Beyond The Abstract, in which we pointed out that PMAFIT’s promotional efforts are to be encouraged but, in the end, in order to attract good candidates into the produce industry, we need to offer attractive jobs — and that is something only the private sector can accomplish.
This is not always easy to do. Some years ago, the Hunts Point Market switched its hours of operation to become a day market, and buyers were banned from the property before some specific morning hour. This was a response to the difficulty the market was experiencing in attracting quality employees… even the sons of owners didn’t want to pursue a career that involved mostly night work.
The experiment failed and the market went back to being primarily a night market. This was for good reason. The very nature of the market, where customers buy product in the evening for delivery early morning to their stores and restaurants, demands night operations, and the produce quality is enhanced when it is exposed to the cool night air, not the heat of a New York summer. So sometimes, operational realities make it essential that people work at certain times and in certain places.
Yet, this is not true all the time, and there is a danger for the industry if executives think that the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent can solve this problem all by itself. Companies need to think carefully if they are creating jobs appealing enough to compete with other industries.
One wonders if in the story of Matthew Enny — where one works for a couple years at a major company center to earn one’s bones in the company and the industry, then one can see the world a bit and eventually come home — there might be a pattern that could help a predominantly rural industry attract young workers who often have social and personal goals that are often best served in urban areas.