Career profile - Production Manager, Fresh Produce

A production manager’s main responsibility is to ensure that the glasshouse, nursery or farm produces
a bountiful and high-quality crop. This means that regardless of whether they are involved in the commercial growing of ornamental plants or fresh produce, the production manager must tend to the needs of thousands of plants as well as permanent and seasonal staff.

What is best about being a production manager?

Peter Bukowski, production manager for top-fruit producer AC Goatham & Son, answers: "One of the best aspects is to see the trees laden with fruit just before harvest — the end result of 12 months of work. Also, being able to work outdoors instead of being stuck in an office all day." Gerard Vonk, general manager at pepper producer Tangmere Airfield Nurseries, adds: "Every growing season and even each day is different. You are working in an evolving industry where product demands are constantly changing. You never stop learning." Vitacress Herbs growing manager/agronomy Laura Marner says one of the best aspects is "going into work every day and having a different challenge."

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?

In-depth knowledge and experience of growing crops

"You must be able to answer questions about all aspects of production to know what is right," says Bukowski. "Also, you have to take responsibility for everything. These are big numbers I
am working with. This comes back to knowledge and experience, which allows you to make tough decisions."

People/management skills

Vonk says a production manager has to lead, instruct and manage a team, so good people and communication skills are vital. "A hands-on, flexible and committed approach is required, as no two days are ever the same." Bukowski adds: "It is very important to know how to deal with all types of people and to treat them well. A good team is a happy team." Marner says: "People skills are a must. The unit can run without us but we can’t run [it] without the staff."

Organisational skills

Vonk notes that attention to detail is key, as is the ability to plan and prioritise your workload.

Determination/positive attitude

"Staying motivated and listening to advice and different approaches are also important qualities," Vonk maintains. Marner says you need "a positive attitude because there are going to be crop failures and you can’t let these keep you down because tomorrow you have to do it all again".

IT skills

State-of-the-art glasshouses such as those at Vitacress are controlled by an environmental computer, so "computer skills are essential", notes Marner

Love of growing

Although this job can be hard at times, Marner says: "If you enjoy growing, then somehow it all becomes OK."

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

"People need to be prepared to start at the bottom and work up through every part of the production operation," says Bukowski. "That way they will gain the experience to help make decisions." Vonk adds that practical experience, interest and a willingness to learn are just as important as qualifications. "Learning what you can from experienced growers is the best start," he advises. Marner also suggests that you do not need a degree to become a production manager. "But you do need to want to learn," she insists.

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?

"You may need to start a step down in order to learn," Bukowski suggests. "Agronomists will have some of the same knowledge." Marner has people working in the nursery with different skills and backgrounds — "from logistics to microbiology, computers to machinery". She adds: "We are desperate for people who we can train up to be the next line of managers."

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