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Industry Viewpoint: Fostering young professionals

benBuilding connections as a young professional can be challenging. Factor in the environment of a pandemic where in-person events are restricted, and it becomes that much more difficult — for professionals of all levels. United Fresh’s work to develop the next generation of produce leaders is well established. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program, graduating more than 300 professionals throughout the quarter century. Giving back to those up and coming, the Produce Industry Leadership Alumni Organization hosted a Young Professionals networking reception during United Fresh LIVE! in mid-June.

Fostering new connections and business opportunities, United Fresh LIVE! attracted more than 7,500 professionals across the industry and the globe during five days of education, receptions and the industry’s first virtual trade show boasting more than 200 exhibits, June 15-19.

As part of that programming, dozens of professionals — with careers spanning from two weeks to two decades — gathered online to discuss common career challenges and opportunities and share what they are learning about themselves and the industry during the pandemic. Led by four alumni of the Produce Industry Leadership Program, the reception utilized Zoom technology to randomly divide participants into their own virtual rooms for more in-depth dialogue. Attendees took full advantage of this format, recognizing there is no “hiding in the back” in Zoom.

“I experienced the best of both worlds during the United Fresh LIVE! young professionals networking reception,” said Destiny Dulaney, brand marketing specialist for Sunkist Growers. “It was really convenient to be able to connect with small groups just like you would at an in-person event, and I also met a lot of attendees I wouldn’t normally have had a chance to meet otherwise.”

For attendees like David Brugato, program manager for Pacific Coast Fruit Co., the reception served as the perfect complement to the education sessions.

“There were a variety of opportunities I took advantage of to develop my career during United Fresh LIVE! The education workshops offered key insights about the industry, while the young professionals reception gave me an opportunity to be an active participant and connect with peers who also are in the beginning stages of their produce career.”

Jessica McCreesh, marketing specialist for California Giant Berry Farms, connected with fellow marketing peers whom she credits for helping her get more acclimated to the new role she started just one month prior.

“The discussion leaders’ prompts were very helpful in fostering lively conversations, enabling us to share our own paths in the produce industry and discover potential new opportunities,” McCreesh said. “I made so many great connections.”

Discussion leader Craig Fields, program development manager – commodities, for RPE Inc., came away from the reception with much excitement for the future of the industry.

“The conversations in the breakouts seemed effortless as everyone involved was eager to engage and meet new faces. The main takeaway for me is that we can all learn from one another’s experiences, no matter your role within an organization or the industry. I look forward to further developing relationships from the young professionals.”

Fields, and the industry, won’t have to wait long to continue networking. United Fresh LIVE! is available throughout the summer. Platform users, new or returning, can explore new products and services 24-7, as well as access more than 30 on-demand workshops and general sessions.

“I’m encouraged by the number of young professionals who participated in this reception,” said Amanda Griffin, United Fresh’s vice president of education and program management. “I look forward to continuing to engage and support them as they continue along their fresh produce career paths.”

(Ben Massoud is the communications manager for the United Fresh Produce Association)

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