BLOG 1 of 4 = Jobs!
Whereas job growth in many sectors is stagnant, there is huge demand for skilled horticulturalists, that is, students trained in fruit and vegetable crop production. According to Dr. John Peterson, Head of the Department of Horticulture at Cal Poly, there are 5-7 jobs for every graduate of his program. In a tour of the area every farmer, manager, etc said the same thing- they are desperate for well-trained plant scientists.
Surprisingly, it was not a call for plant scientists like most universities turn out. The trends are showing less interest with biotech and organic production methods and a return to basic expertise in growing plants. The manager of one company told me, "We need people that understand plant physiology, plant nutrition, plant pathology and entomology, along with a handle on business and communication".
The emphasis on communication came up many times. If you can't speak and write, don't apply.
A strawberry field near Santa Maria, CA, one of many sites of summer fruit production.
The other major trend is that all positions require an unbridled work ethic and a disdain for the 40 hour work week. The managers that have been there for 30 years are still starting at 5-6 AM and going for 10 hours a day, six days a week. It seems like the biggest shock to new employees that are dreaming of a 9-5 desk spot. The most seasoned employees are all working this full-time-plus schedule, and overtime rules do not apply in agriculture in California!
At the same time the salaries are good. Even the low-end workers have the opportunity to make $800-$1500 a week, six days at about ten hours a day, which is $14-25 per hour. The managers we spoke to were happy, motivated and optimistic, at least about the near term. They all did mention significant production caveats and those will be the topic of the next blog.
One other thought for the potential employee-- get ready to work, work hard, work smart. At one location, a significant supplier of fresh cut broccoli, cauliflower and lettuces, said, "They show up here for an interview and they want to know how much they are going to get paid and where's the company car, long before they even know the demands of the job".
So the outlook in ag production jobs is promising. They pay well, there is reasonable security and the companies are well established and looking for creative energy. The people that have survived in that business are salt-of-the-earth hard workers that make it happen. They are not looking for slackers or whiners. They want solid, innovative, ambitious employees that know how to work with plants.
One manager at a major producer said, "When I tell an interviewee that we start at 5 AM every day except Sunday most of them say forget it".