CERRITOS, Calif. — With baby boomers retiring and fewer young people choosing agriculture as a career, finding talented employees can be a challenge.

Programs seek new talent for produce industryFortunately, the industry anticipated the scenario years ago and came up with programs like the Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation for Industry Talent, United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program and the FPFC’s Career Pathways Mentoring Program, according to Jerry Butt, senior partner at Pasadena, Calif.-based The Mixtec Group.

Butt spoke at the Feb. 8 Fresh Produce and Floral Council luncheon.

But how does a firm attract, hire and retain the best people?

Most companies attract potential employees through classified advertising in trade publications and, more recently, Facebook and social media, he said.

Let potential hires know why they should pick your company over the competition, and why your company is the best place to work, he said.

About 5% of recruiting is reaching out to specific candidates through intern programs, networking and referral incentives to existing employees.

“The best companies make recruiting part of their culture,” Butt said.

When you get to the hiring process, “Ask the right questions,” he said.

“Tell me about yourself,” is a good question to ask to learn something about a candidate’s professional and personal life, he said.

Talk about your company’s vision he said, and ask candidates what they have accomplished, not just what their duties and responsibilities were at their previous job.

Make a hiring decision quickly to keep the momentum going, he advised.

Once you hire good employees, how do you keep them?

First, find out what the No. 1 reason is that people leave your company — perhaps through exit interviews — then figure out what can be done about it.

Other suggestions:

  • Design an orientation program;
  • Outline a career path;
  • Assign a mentor or role model;
  • Provide educational resources;
  • Celebrate success;
  • Offer competitive benefits;
  • Offer perks that employees value;
  • Incorporate an element of fun in the job;
  • Create incentives; and
  • Conduct annual salary reviews.

Butt said companies might do well to follow the thinking of Danny Wegman, chief executive officer of Wegman’s Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y.: “There is nothing more important to us than being a great place to work. When our people feel valued and cared about, they, in turn, make our customers feel the same.”