Editor's Plate: STEMming the Tide

July 13, 2015
More work needs to be done to attract millennials to your food and your plants.

I think our cover nicely illustrates an issue all food and beverage companies already are dealing with that’s only going to get worse: the attraction of good, young talent in an age when pure technology is hotter. Maybe what it doesn’t show is the attendant problem that millennials – and that’s the age group we’re talking about – have probably the lowest perception of the food and beverage industry than any previous generation.

These problems are interconnected. As much, if not more, effort should be expended at solving the second issue as the first – if only because these millennials also are the next great demographic of consumers, and with each tick of the clock they are growing larger than the baby boomer generation.

I’m the father of two millennials, and I was talking about this just recently while at my daughter’s house. I opened the fridge to look for some Diet Cherry Coke, but her refrigerator was full of stuff like chia seeds, protein shakes, almond milk and cold-pressed juice.

This is not the way I eat, nor is it the way I shop. You can’t even get some of those things at my 100-year-old, big-name grocery store. Well, you can’t get anything there any more because it closed. I think some “fresh market” will be replacing it. Or maybe I can drive to that Whole Foods Market down the road. Never been there, might be worth checking out.

Two of this month’s topics provided a dilemma for we who produce the magazine. The annual Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey has been our July cover story for the past several years, but what started out as a Plant Operations story grew in importance and had clear connections to any discussion about jobs in food and beverage processing.

That plant story, The Next Generation of Plant Pros, has some wonderful tips and anecdotes about dealing with millennial employees. Speaking their language requires communicating via social media – on smartphones, Facebook and YouTube videos. Keeping them engaged requires new thinking too.

But first you have to find them. While science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) is certainly a hot topic across our nation’s schools, it would be nice to see some renewed emphasis and respectability for old-fashioned vocational education for those kids who are not destined for university degrees.

I know at least one millennial reads this magazine because he criticized my dissing of his demographic in an earlier editor’s page. I guess in my own awkward way, I have engaged them.

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