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Challenges & Opportunities in Recruiting the Next Generation

On Friday, May 20, 2022, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) invited a group of academics and food industry leaders to attend a five-hour symposium at the University Club of Chicago. The event was held in conjunction with the Association’s Gold & Silver Plate Weekend.

The topic of the day was attracting the next generation to professional careers in the food industry. Conversations focused on how students perceive the industry, what companies and universities can do to make themselves more attractive to those just starting their careers, and what the challenges might be for food companies trying to appeal to young professionals.



A big challenge for attracting students to professional careers in food is their lack of awareness of the breadth of careers available.

Sihui Ma, Director of Assessment for Undergraduate Food Science, University of Illinois:
“Their question is ‘what is foodservice?’ They have such limited ideas. Let’s get more information out there for them so they have a clearer idea of what’s actually available to them career-wise in the industry.”


Ken Toong, Executive Director, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Auxiliary Enterprises:
“...the industry is so large but they don’t think about HR, IT, Finance, etc. Students want to take on things like climate change and DEI challenges. They need to know they can do that within hospitality.”


Karthikeyan Namasivayam, Professor, Hospitality Business, Michigan State University:
“Currently hospitality isn’t seen as viable, we really need to let them know what it’s all about...Most students only see the entry-level positions. They don’t understand the whole structure of a foodservice corporation or manufacturing company.”



There’s also a perception out there that the food industry is a “cultural dinosaur” when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues. That’s being addressed within many companies and most agree it’s a top-of-mind issue for those entering the industry.

Adrienne Trimble, Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Sysco:
“At Sysco, we consider DEI an outcome and our culture as the input – the heartbeat of the organization. Our purpose and values need to be in every action we take every day...We have a code of conduct that needs to be fully understood and accepted – we're working to be intentional and pro-active.”


Jean Jakoby, Vice President of Global Sales, PepsiCo:
“Being in an international company, I’d say from what I’ve seen that North America is following rather than leading global DEI efforts. The U.S. is more divisive than other countries...But young people have an expectation that companies take a stand on important issues like these. We need to stand up.”


Hugh Roth, Chief Customer Officer, PepsiCo:
“We’ve combined trainings at PepsiCo with what we call ‘courageous conversations,’ that is encouraging leaders to talk openly about our personal stories and attitudes. It’s changed opinions on our internal commitment to DEI.”



How can we convince younger people to take up a career in the food industry? Certainly, education and internships play a part.

Mary Molt, Associate Director, Kansas State University:
“[Students] come in with an understanding of the back-of-house jobs because that’s where 16-year-olds get their first jobs. We should actually create a way to reach out to high school kids and give them a view of the fuller range of careers. So much goes into producing a plate of food!

“Remember too that students want to feel important and internship programs can offer tremendous opportunities to show them the possibilities. Some students return from their internships feeling like they built a bridge over the Atlantic Ocean!”


Ken Toong, Executive Director, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Auxiliary Enterprises:
“Stories work. Make stories available about how employers interact with employees. How careers progress. Students want to see company cultures that nurture careers.”


Sihui Ma, Director of Assessment for Undergraduate Food Science, University of Illinois:
“I encourage everyone to get out and meet students. Adding personal interactions to professional presentations makes a real difference. Interact with students as much as possible. It would be best if presentations were always made in person rather than digitally.”


Karthikeyan Namasivayam, Professor, Hospitality Business, Michigan State University:
“The more schools can share with students, the more interested they will be in the possibilities in the industry. It would be great to see IFMA get information into college programs. Working together will benefit everybody.”



IFMA has launched an online program to help young people locate professional jobs in our industry. Food companies may post internships and jobs on the Foodverse® platform.

The “soft launch” of Foodverse began in late 2019, but the pandemic lock-down in 2020 put things on hold. The site has remained live and can still be used, IFMA has plans to build out the capabilities of the platform and promote it to foodservice companies, college career counselors, students and other job seekers.


Foodverse is designed for companies to post internships for free and pay a fee to post jobs for 30 or 60 days. Foodverse allows for targeted advertising and resume searching too. Job postings can even be “enhanced” for greater visibility on the site.


Job seekers post resumes and browse posted jobs by category, location, etc. They can apply directly through the platform for positions that interest them – including internships. The system can even send alerts to users when postings go up.


During the May 20 Career Forum, IFMA solicited feedback on Foodverse and suggestions for expanding and improving the program. Stay tuned!

IFMA Foodverse®