Fyffes is launching its 2017 graduate programme at the Agri Careers Fair and will be recruiting up to 10 graduates. There were 700 applicants for Fyffes’ 2016 graduate programme but only 12 made the final cut – and eight of these were found at last year’s Agri Careers Fair (so if you didn’t believe us before when we said the Fair was worth a visit ...). William Faulkner, head of human resources at Fyffes plc, says some of those who eventually made it on to the programme came and spoke to Fyffes twice at last year’s fair.

Programme Structure

Fyffes’ graduate programme is an international programme targeted at the tropics. Participants spend two years in Central America, including Panama, Belize and Costa Rica. The programme consists of a maximum of four training and development placements, each of which is six months in duration. At the end of the two-year period, the objective is to offer successful graduates permanent positions.

There is logic behind sending these young people to the heart of Central America, according to William.

“They have to see everything to understand. If there is an issue with the quality of the produce back in Ireland, the UK or elsewhere, they can see the link between that and what they’re doing back on the farm,” he says.

“It’s quite an unusual programme. It’s not your normal graduate situation because when graduates Google places like Costra Rica, Panama, Belize, or any of these romantic-sounding countries, they see beaches and five-star hotels and fancy this, that and the other. However, when we’ve driven them three hours into what was the jungle, it’s a completely different kettle of fish and they’re basically living in the middle of nowhere,” explains William.

Graduates are initially placed with local families to get their Spanish skills up to speed. But this has added benefits too. “They get their clothes washed and they get their meals cooked for them so they’re quite happy with that,” laughs William.

Graduates see the complete operation in Central America – everything from soil preparation, harvesting, to the pack house, logistics and shipping. Every week they must do a report for the manager and the general manager, on what they’ve done, their observations and their recommendations. Their recommendations have to be those that can be put into practice, as William has no interest in “airy-fairy ideas, because what you could put into practice in Europe in a sophisticated environment might not work out there; but there’s another learning process they have to go through. They have to produce a report that won’t be seen to be critical of their local manager, so they have to phrase it in a way that’s constructive. It’s professionalism, they have to use their academic rigour that they’ve come with from their college background.”

Fyffes is very interested in students with an agricultural, horticultural or agricultural engineering backgrounds. However, they take on forestry graduates too – William notes that the principles are the same.

Graduates from farms are particularly liked “because even where there’s been three days of rain, and you can’t get to harvest the fruit, all the graduates will say there’s always something to be done on a farm. You don’t just sit inside and look at it raining, you get out there and do something, whether it’s looking at the machinery, the equipment, or basic maintenance,” explains William.

Having The right personality

William says the easy part of recruiting for the programme is finding those with the right academic background; the more difficult part of the process is finding candidates with a personality that means they’ll succeed on the programme.

Fyffes uses psychometric and behavioural profiling – “just to see what the makeup of the individual is”. This is because life in the tropics can be lonely. Graduates are often located in remote regions where there is no wi-fi.

“There’s no Skype – or there is Skype but you have to go up to the top of the mountain to get a signal,” says William. “And your mobile phone won’t always work.”

If you pass Fyffes’ extremely rigorous selection procedure and get a place on their programme, you can take comfort in the fact you’re a seriously competent human being, as they seem to set their standards very high.

There were 700 applicants for the programme last year and just 22 were selected for interview. These 22 were whittled down to eight and these eight were sent out to the tropics.

“We didn’t put them up in these fancy five-star hotels with beaches, I put them in the Holiday Inn Express outside San José airport so the only view they had was the runway and the hills and the forest in the distance,” explains William.

Graduates spent a week seeing farms and being shown how operations work out there. They had to pay very close attention to everything they were told as it could come up in the interview, which was held at the end of the week. All eight candidates performed very well over the course of the week and in their interview on the final day; and all eight secured jobs. Four more graduates were taken on later in the year – two from UCC and two from agricultural engineering in IT Tralee.

Career Trajectory

Fyffes’ plan for the graduates is that they will become farm managers long term, but there are other roles that they can fill in areas such as auditing, compliance and corporate social responsibility.

There are opportunities with Fyffes right across the globe. For example, Fyffes bought Canadian mushroom businesses Highline Produce and All Seasons Mushrooms last year, while the company also has activities in China, and opportunities in Russia.

Fyffes may be best known for its bananas but the company supplies huge amounts of melons and pineapples too and is the No 1 supplier of melons in the United States, where Fyffes has two graduates working. These graduates are in Miami and William says Fyffes identified them at the beginning: “because they were doing agribusiness, they were more interested in mergers, acquisitions, marketing and the business side of ag rather than the farming side.”

William is calling out for as many people with the right background and attitude to come and visit Fyffes on the stand at the Agri Careers Fair.

“We’ll have people over from the tropics and from the UK and Ireland so there’s going to be experts to answer any questions.

“Some of the ex-graduates will be there, along with the more senior management.” CL