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Transferable Skills in the Food and Fresh Produce Industry

3 months ago by Tom Edmondson-Matthews

​“I have transferable skills,” said every candidate, ever. Ok, but there are transferable skills, and there are transferable skills. A candidate might have excellent communication and time management that will serve them well in any role, but I’m going to need some serious convincing to agree that experience in shoe sales is going to be relevant to selling grass seed! The problem as a recruiter is trying to strike a balance between the lack of good candidates available in the market right now, and the narrow briefs we’re given from clients.

​So, how do we do that?

Expand the client brief

It’s not unusual to deal with a client who is looking for someone with a very specific employment history. They might say, “We need someone who knows top fruit and has experience with Tesco or Sainsbury’s.” Obviously, this is going to rule out a lot of candidates, some of whom might be the perfect fit. We see some great candidates and CVs but struggle to utilise them because their category isn’t 100% aligned with the hiring manager's brief.

​We often challenge clients and ask them to hire based on values and personality if a candidate has many transferrable skills and experience to consider. Expanding the client brief to a point they’re still comfortable with can mean they get matched with a candidate they didn’t know they were looking for, and that’s when recruiter magic happens. In practice, this might mean exploring the option of candidates with a chilled ready meal history for a client hiring for a fresh produce role. These are exactly the kind of transferable skills I can work with.

Conduct thorough candidate research

The market is short, and we aren’t bringing enough people into the sector across all levels.

It has been that way since I started with MorePeople and the market doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. So, does that mean we should try to make use of every potential candidate who comes our way? To put it simply: No.

​Given the areas of the food supply chain we cover, we are never going to be able to help everyone who approaches us with more generic transferrable skills. We are very particular in the areas we cover, and that makes it difficult to find quality candidates. It’s the exact reason that our clients need us, and the same reason that we’re as successful as we are. It’s also the reason why this job can be tough, and the same reason it can be very rewarding.

​Background research should be a pre-requisite for any potential candidate we look at. This means delving past the basics of their CV and getting into the finer details of their experience. Sometimes, this means we’re talking to a candidate who’s currently a root vegetable buyer for Sainsbury’s, and our discussions reveal they actually started as a commercial manager at a fruit supplier. Bingo, there’s your fruit expert with experience in supplying a big supermarket. Sometimes, our candidate research reveals they don’t have the type of transferable skills we can use. And that’s ok too. It just means we’re one step closer to finding the right person for the job.

The Takeaway?

When looking at transferable skills, flexibility can be applied, but only within reason. I don’t want to buy my apples from someone who knows more about leather, and neither should you. A recruiter can help find this flexibility through our background research, and work with the client to see where the brief can also flex to find this perfect fit.