Ben Pauley on Finding a great employee through immersion academy

Ben PauleyBen Pauley says it “didn’t take too much convincing” to prompt his interest in the first Immersion Academy. Ben, a floral industry veteran who currently helps lead sales and marketing for Passion Growers, saw the 2017 Center for Growing Talent attract program as a great way to find potential new employees to support the company’s goals.

“We’re trying to do things with our business and our farms that will set us up for decades to come,” he says. “And as part of that you have to look at your employee base.

We started looking at talent that didn’t necessarily come from floral—like a related industry or right out of school with the right education. We’d been looking for some time for key positions, and the traditional networking and advertising weren’t working well for us.”

Ben recognizes that finding qualified employees is a challenge throughout the floral and fresh produce industry. Companies tend to be small, family owned and lean, without the HR infrastructure in place to actively recruit and retain skilled workers. “As an industry, we don’t have a hierarchy to hire and nurture talent,” he says. “It’s rare to find someone who knows the supply chain, knows how flowers are grown and has category management experience that can help retailers sell more flowers. Companies have been focused on finding that talent somewhere else within the industry, but you can only do that so many times. We haven’t been good at going outside our known group of people.”

That’s why Immersion Academy was appealing to him. The program gathers over 100 top-tier college students from study areas beyond traditional agriculture courses, like marketing and communications, finance and business. During the event, students meet one-on-one with industry leaders in a “speed interviewing” format.

That’s how Ben met Karen Rodriguez, then a senior studying supply chain management. During informal networking and the speed interviewing session, Karen impressed Ben with her educational experience and her personal initiative—she paid her way through college with a part-time job as a floral arranger. That floral experience was a huge bonus.

The two kept in touch, and when Karen was ready to graduate in the spring of 2018, she reached out to Ben to let him know she was job searching. Less than a week after she graduated, Karen headed to Miami to interview with company leaders and get to know the business, and shortly thereafter, she moved from Dallas to join Passion Growers.

Ben says he’d recommend that other hiring managers and executives in the floral and produce industry participate in the Immersion Academy speed interviews. “If we at Passion Growers could go once a year and come up with one person like Karen a year, it would be worth the time investment,” he says. “If I had met someone with Karen’s attributes but who had a different area of study or didn’t have floral experience, we would have been just as interested.

“It’s a good thing to do for the industry and it helps students, but on a selfish level it’s great for us."