CHICAGO — Attracting employees from beyond traditional boundaries is important to grow food and agricultural companies.

“I think as we go forward one of our biggest challenges is going to be expanding the scope of where we are looking for talent,” said Beth Fannin, Growmark Inc. senior manager of talent acquisition.

“We know people with a food and agricultural background. While vital to the success of our industry, there’s not enough of them for the opportunities we have,” Fannin said during the “Where’s the Workforce? Attracting Talent in a Changing Agri-Food Landscape” event organized by the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance.

“So, we have to look outside what we typically thought of who belongs in the food and agricultural sector to make sure we’re bringing in the top talent.”

Fannin, who was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, has lived in the Bloomington area for about the past 10 years.

“I am a city girl in a more rural area working in the agricultural industry,” she said.

“I manage the recruiting function for Growmark.”

The agricultural and food industry needs to do a better job of promoting the opportunities that exist within the sector, Fannin said.

“We do not talk enough about the opportunities we have within the tech space,” she said.

Beyond The Farm

When people think about working in the food and agricultural industry, they typically focus on farming.

“They don’t think about all the other amazing things we’re doing and where their place might be,” Fannin said.

In addition, those involved with agriculture should talk about the purpose of the industry.

“Millennials want to work for a purpose, and they want to work where they feel like they’re making a difference,” Fannin said. “They want to do work that is having an impact on something larger than themselves.”

This is a story that the agricultural and food industry can sell, Fannin stressed.

“I don’t think there’s a more awesome responsibility than feeding the world,” she said. “That’s an easy message to tell.”

Fannin noted the need for more diversity in the industry.

“Not only does that mean cultural, racial and gender diversity, but also diversity in perspective and thought,” she said.

“If you’ve been working in a particular industry your entire career, you want to hire someone with a similar background and maybe the same educational background,” she said.

“You’re not trying to sector out other perspectives or backgrounds, but it does happen unintentionally, so we need to be talking about what we can do to make our workforce more diverse and inclusive.”

As a Chicago native, Fannin said she had not seen a stalk of corn until she moved to Bloomington and started working for an ag company.

“I knew nothing, and I thought this was just a stop on my career trajectory,” she said. “I thought I’d work there for a few years while I got established in the community and until I found something else because I did not know about the vast opportunities and the awesome things we’re doing in the industry.”

Fresh Approach

About two years ago, Growmark focused on rebranding its careers.

“We looked at all the imagery and types of messaging to make sure it wasn’t the typical, historic perspective of the ag sector and to freshen it up,” Fannin said.

“We’re also trying to get our message out to more than just students in agriculture, and we’ve been trying to take the pulse of people who work in other industries,” she said.

“We did some focus groups at a few universities with students outside of the agricultural sector to determine what their perspective is about agriculture and what they would like to know more about agriculture to make it more appealing to them.”

Working for Growmark was not a conscious decision for Fannin. However, she found an opportunity at the company that sounded interesting to her.

“I feel so blessed and lucky I ended up there, and that’s why I feel passionate about being open and inclusive to people with different backgrounds,” she said.

“When I first started there, I felt a little isolated because I do not have an ag background and people were throwing around a lot of terms that I had no idea what they were talking about,” she said.

“If someone is asking a question, they want to learn, so we have to be better about answering questions and being open to people with different backgrounds.”

For more information about the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, go to:

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.


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