The foodservice industry may be large in dollar volume but it is small in terms of the number of people that work in it. Whether you have been with one company for 30 years, like I have, or for 4 or 5, you never lose track of your friends and colleagues. This industry is so small news travels fast. I often joke that you can lose your job working for a company on the East Coast and have another job on the West Coast before your spouse finds out what's happening.
However, the lack of young people within our industry concerns me. At a recent industry event, I looked around the room and saw that most of the people in attendance were 45 to 50 years old.
It is time to invest in the future of the foodservice industry. This is a phenomenal industry because it is ever-changing and home to a lot of wonderful people. Our industry is not without its challenges but by and large my foodservice experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
Most young people see the foodservice industry through the old cliché of standing behind the counter flipping burgers. In many cases they don't understand the multi-faceted nature of this business. As an industry we need to do a better job of educating the emerging generations of professionals about the opportunities in design, engineering, sales, finance and more.
Where do we as an industry go to find younger people to come into the business? The answer is in our back yard: culinary schools and hotel/motel schools. We can start by doing a better job of engaging these entities by going to their job fairs, hiring students as interns and more. As manufacturers, dealers and consultants we see the benefits of working with culinary schools when they need to build a new kitchen but why don't we enlist their help in shaping our future? It is incumbent upon us to make them aware of the opportunities dealers, consultants and manufacturers can provide so they can transition when the time is right for them.
Of course, I am not sure many young people we could bring to the industry know how to communicate face to face. Emerging generations do well when it comes to embracing technology but can they meet one on one to sell a product? While used to constant contact through texting, Twitter and Facebook, they struggle with shaking hands and looking someone in the eye. In the future, successful foodservice professionals will have to master both high tech and high touch.
At the end of this month I will retire from my current position with Hatco and begin to search for my next challenge. What comes next I am not certain. But I do know one thing: the foodservice industry will always have a place for the young at heart.