America’s not got talent: the feed industry recruitment challenge

'To prevent pharmaceutical firms from tempting away their top people, feed companies need to offer more competitive pay and stimulate staff through ongoing technical training.'

The US feed industry is facing a major shortage of qualified technical talent, according to industry recruiter Continental Research.

In an exclusive interview with FeedNavigator, Dan Simmons, the firm’s president, described the feed industry as “hotfrom a recruitment perspective. 

“A growing number of international players are entering the US feed market with new products. Also, scie

ntific advancements are driving innovation, which, in turn, adds to the complexity of manufacturing and selling. Consequently, feed companies are looking for additional sales and technical people who can give them a competitive edge,” he said. 

“There is a lot more science in what the feed industry is doing today compared with 30 years ago. Companies need people who understand that science and can explain it to both technical people and producers.”  

Pool running dry

However, he said the pool of qualified nutritionists, physiologists and sales people available to fill these positions is inadequate for industry’s needs.

“At this time there are no easy recruiting assignments. The most difficult are mid-level technical support jobs requiring an advanced degree. Most companies are desperate to hire the 30-something with a MS/PhD/DVM who will overnight travel and enjoy meeting new people,” he said.

He cited a number of factors that are contributing to this shortage of qualified talent.

“Baby boomers are retiring faster than colleges can produce animal ag focused graduates to replace the retirees. This is compounded by the fact that university programs that could produce the technical support staff needed for the next 10 years are graduating a disproportionate amount of students who are difficult to employ in the US due to immigration law or who return to their home countries.”

Industry vs academia

However, while universities are sometimes criticized by industry for failing to produce enough students who will ultimately seek employment in the US feed industry, the industry is also getting stick from academia.

“Universities complain about the industry’s unwillingness to invest in projects to fund the candidates they will eventually need to hire,” explained Simmons.

The advent of social media is not helping the situation either, producing a generation of candidates who are lacking in key personal interaction and relationship building skills, according to Simmons.

“One technical advancement that is actually hurting the job market is the addiction to texting and social media. Businesses need people who relate well to people in person and millennials are not as comfortable with this as previous generations. Put it this way: I’ve been in sales for 25 years and have never sold anything by text.”

Losing out to ‘glamorous’ pharma

A further factor contributing to the shortfall in candidates is that the pharmaceutical industry uses the feed industry as a recruiting pool.

“The pharmaceutical industry has a more glamorous image and pays more,” said Simmons, drawing a parallel to the retail industry: “No matter what a discount department store will pay, it will struggle to recruit someone from a mainstream department store. It’s the prestige factor; the pharmaceutical industry has more.”

To prevent pharmaceutical firms from tempting away their top people, feed companies need to offer more competitive pay and stimulate staff through ongoing technical training, suggested Simmons.

“The feed industry needs to make sure remuneration levels are high enough that it is prohibitive for other industries to recruit those people,” he said. 

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