Indoor Ag-Con 2023 & CEA Workforce Development
Since M&F Talent is one of the most established recruiting firms in the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry, we were invited to speak at Indoor Ag-Con 2023 in Las Vegas. Our Principal & Lead Recruiter Mike Ruane joined a speaker panel on CEA workforce development. Even more, Mike got to meet and shake hands with many of our clients and candidates – which is always a pleasure in today’s internet-based business world.
Indoor Ag-Con is the premier tradeshow for the CEA industry – 2023 was the 11th year the show was hosted. People generally attend Indoor Ag-Con for education on new products and services, as well as business training. Obviously, the trade show is also a great networking opportunity for prospective clients and industry peers.
What is Indoor Ag-Con?
Indoor Ag-Con offers an opportunity for the CEA community to get together and discuss best practices in the industry. As their website explains, “Indoor Ag-Con is the premier event covering the technology of growing crops in indoor systems, using hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic techniques. Editions have featured keynotes from leaders in farming, supplier, technology, customer, government and academic sectors.”
Whether you are a crop producer, equipment manufacturer, or curious investor, Indoor-Ag Con is a great opportunity to expand your horizons in CEA. Since indoor gardening is such a diverse field spanning engineering, plant sciences, and information technology (IT), no single person is an expert in the entire industry.
What are the Primary Focuses of Indoor Ag-Con?
There are many common themes each year at Indoor-Ag Con. Of these, sustainability practices are a popular topic in just about any circle of businesspeople. Similarly, companies are always looking for new ways to cut costs with lean operating principles and technological solutions.
After all, there would be no CEA industry without the technology that fuels indoor gardens and greenhouses. As their website tells us, “Indoor Ag-Con is the showplace for robotics, automation, AI, breaking technology trends and product innovation.” Commercial crop producers come to Indoor Ag-Con in search of novel technologies when planning new build-outs, expansions, and equipment upgrades.
There is no better way to learn about new business strategies than from other people in the CEA industry. Whether it be keynote speakers like Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai, or meeting peers at a casual mixer, there is a lot to be gained at Indoor Ag-Con. In workshops and discussions, you can take home valuable info on VC funding, government subsidies, and sustainable business.
No matter your objectives for attending Indoor Ag-Con, you are bound to return home with a new list of business contacts. In fact, as the Indoor Ag-Con website explains, “our events have welcomed participants from more than twenty countries.” Who knows, you might even make some great friends at the event as well.
Finally, no CEA convention would be complete without discussion and workshops about the latest cultivation methods. Whether it’s learning about profit margins on different crops or expanding your integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, there is a wealth of knowledge to bring home from Indoor Ag-Con.
Panel Discussion on CEA Workforce Development
- Mike Ruane – Principal & Lead Recruiter, M&F Talent
- Lori Culler – Founder & Owner, Aghires
- Dr. Daniel Wells – Horticulture Professor, Auburn University
- Dr. Angela Cottrell – Director of Research and Institute Programs, University of Missouri-Kansas City
M&F Talent’s Principal & Founder Mike Ruane was invited to Indoor Ag-Con to take part in a panel discussion on CEA workforce development. While a lot of attention is paid to the technological side of the CEA space, it’s easy to overlook the people behind the scenes making things happen. That being said, HR trends are the type of topic where a recruiter can lend some important insight and expertise.
Here are the main points from the CEA workforce panel discussion:
CEA Education & Professional Training
Part of the CEA workforce development panel was dedicated to education and professional training.
Led by Dr. Wells and Dr. Cottrell, a major emphasis of the discussion is what it takes to get young people interested in studying CEA at the university level. With CEA being such a niche industry, there isn’t much awareness about this career field with younger generations in the mainstream.
Both Dr. Wells and Dr. Cottrell agree that greenhouse cultivation operations at universities are a great way to get students involved with growing crops. As both professors have seen, the ability to actually handle plants and work with CEA technology sparks a real interest in students that might not exist otherwise.
Another important topic of the conversation is the fact that many universities still don’t offer specific majors in controlled environment agriculture. While facets of CEA like agriculture, engineering, and information technology (IT) are taught at almost every school, most don’t combine these classes in a single comprehensive CEA major.
The final talking point of Dr. Wells and Dr. Cottrell has to do with internship opportunities for CEA students. Simply put, most people can’t afford to work for a free internship, so universities are working with CEA companies to develop paid internship programs.
Hiring & Job Searching in CEA
The hiring and job search part of the CEA workforce development panel was handled by Mike Ruane of M&F Talent and Lori Culler of Aghires.
Something that hiring parties continue to ponder in CEA is how to get more candidates interested in working in the industry. Both Mike and Lori agree that many people are motivated to work in CEA by more than a paycheck. Many candidates find CEA careers personally rewarding because they help solve global issues with food shortages. Even better, CEA produces crops in a more sustainable fashion than traditional agriculture.
People at Indoor Ag-Con were also curious if CEA companies are able to compete with other industries when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent. Mike and Lori both felt that most CEA companies can compete with other industries when it comes to salary and benefits.
The final talking point of the discussion had to do with current skills gaps in CEA. When many people think of CEA, they only consider Head Grower positions and other jobs working directly with crops. However, there are many more opportunities in CEA – including sales, marketing, operations, engineering, and more. Mike and Lori have also both seen a general shortage of middle management talent.
Contact M&F Talent Today!
Whether you are looking for a job in the CEA industry or need to hire top indoor gardening talent, Mac & Fulton will get you where you need to go. Contact Us today to learn more!