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Pundit’s Mailbag — Protocol Lesson For
PMA Education Foundation Students

Our piece introducing the new board of the PMA Educational Foundation and highlighting the Foundation’s initial fundraising efforts brought this comment from the chief executive of a company that has fertilized the industry with many people it brought in on an entry level:

I just read the Pundit article, PMA Education Foundation Looks To Attract And Retain New Industry Talent. That is a lot of money that the foundation has raised. Congratulations are in order!

I do have a real life commentary. Although I am not on the foundation board, nor have I been asked for my input or feedback… it is no secret that our company is quite a supporter of young people and has brought more than our fair share into the industry.

So, it was not really a surprise to me that at least 8 of the scholarship winners were personally escorted to our booth at PMA (by their mentors) and I personally met with them (and their mentors).

I did the same thing with all of them. After spending at least 10 minutes with each visitor, I gave them my card, and took theirs, when they had them. And I asked them to follow up with me and send me an email after the show. Maybe it was about an internship, or some follow up to our discussion.

I did not hear from ONE of them. Not one.

If our industry is committed to bringing new young people into the industry… then we probably need to do first things first and teach them “business protocol”. Frankly I was disappointed that their mentors or the training staff hired by PMA did not emphasize the importance of follow up in business to these “outstanding students”.

I know it makes those that have hundreds of thousands of dollars available to donate to the PMA foundation “feel good”… but the reality is, it should NOT be about making the donors feel good. It should truly be about recruiting new life into our industry.

I think a little more depth is needed in this program.

Our correspondent is writing in reference to an annual program that predates the Foundation. The program was established in 2004 by the generosity of Jay and Ruthie Pack — former owners of Standard Fruit & Vegetable in Dallas. The Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund set about to bring to each year’s PMA convention students from select colleges.

Initially the participants were drawn from California Polytechnic State University, Cornell University, Michigan State University, St. Joseph’s University, Texas A&M University, and University of California at Davis.

By 2007, the program had expanded, retaining all the original schools and adding a new US school plus reaching out to Chile, Australia and South Africa:

Pontifícia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile)

University of Florida (USA)

University of Pretoria (South Africa)

University of Stellenbosch (South Africa)

University of Queensland (Australia)

The Pundit has been honored to be a part of the program since its beginning, having been asked by both the Pack family and PMA to serve on the Steering Committee of the program.

Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, also is privileged to put on its Rising Star reception, with help of generous grants from both The MIXTEC Group and Ocean Mist Farms, to honor both the PRODUCE BUSINESS 40-under-Forty winners and the Pack/PMA Career Pathways Fund students.

In its conception, the program is certainly brilliant — bring students to the trade’s largest event so they can realize the enormous potential the produce industry holds for a young person soon to set out on his or her career.

By and large, it has been enormously successful in the sense that the students are typically bowled over by the event and awakened to the possibility of a career in produce.

Many are now working in the industry.

At the same time, there are, of course, problematic issues. For example, there is no easy way to determine how many of these students would have selected careers in the produce trade without such a program.

The only thing we can say is that the mentors that have worked with the students, and the students themselves, generally report that the program was important in awakening the students’ interest and expanding their knowledge of the produce industry.

This conforms to the experience Jay Pack had back during his days running Standard Fruit and Vegetable. If Jay and Ruthie are the parents of the program, Dan’l Mackey-Almy of DMA Solutions was the midwife. She, working for Standard, spent countless hours working with faculty at Texas A&M to bring key students over to the Standard facility in Dallas.

The program in Texas is not focused on produce and, for many students, that visit to Dallas was their first exposure to the industry. Many students wound up coming to work at Standard and enriching the industry with their talents. It was this experience that led Jay & Ruthie to launch the program.

Of course, bringing a few students from college to a produce company is not exactly the same as bringing an army of students and faculty advisors from the four corners of the globe to PMA, so this has certainly been a learning experience and each year the program has improved.

Little things mean a lot and when our letter-writer mentions the students with business cards, we recall how the first year the big complaint was that none of the students had business cards — so, the following year, the program started giving business cards to every student.

One can imagine a hundred reasons why our correspondent never got a call or e-mail back. The geography of the industry is an issue, with many students restricted in where they want internships or jobs. The age of the students varies and not all are ready for jobs. Some, even after the experience, may elect to pursue careers in other industries.

And, of course, one company does not a complete portrait make. Since several of the students are working in the trade, there must have been some communication going on somewhere.

Customers have to be aware of a few key points that hold meaning during choosing the proper custom essay writing service.

We don’t want to start sounding like Paul Lynde, but maybe these highly select students now expect to be wooed by companies rather than asking for internships and jobs.

Of course, none of this is an excuse and we think our correspondent’s suggestion of integrating a program in which we both try to teach students how to get the most out of business events such as this and, perhaps, even establish some expectations is a fine idea.

In fact, I am not sure we should limit it to the students. Although our correspondent runs a highly professional organization that attempts to maximize the value of its exhibiting budget by ensuring proper follow-up, we often hear complaints from attendees of exhibitors failing to follow up with inquiries made on the trade show floor.

Plenty of industry executives complain that their calls don’t get returned. Tesco thought it was OK to hand out business cards with a fake phone number on it that would never be answered.

It seems like rudeness and irresponsibility is, unfortunately, part of the zeitgeist of the times.

We are, however, not doing the students any favor by letting them get away with it. We should certainly take action as part of our 2008 planning.

Many thanks to our correspondent for pointing out a real value that can be delivered to the students in the program.

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