Talent in horticulture discussed by Robert-Jan de Goeij and Mexx Holweg
Young professionals Vision Food for thought
Monday, 20 December 2021
Jacco Strating

‘We need to recruit talent more actively'

Horticulture is changing rapidly due to developments in the field of robotics, automation, and data-driven cultivation. Talent is needed for individual companies to grow along, and it takes a lot more than green fingers. It’s also about qualities that are in line with these modern developments and that are necessary to keep professional organizations running. These kinds of qualities are not always available and have to be found outside horticulture.

Gone are the days when plant knowledge was sufficient to run a nursery successfully. Over the years, nurseries transformed into international companies and growers grew into versatile entrepreneurs. The increase in scale in horticulture also makes a major contribution to this. The larger companies become, the greater the demand for modern applications like robots, drones, and Artificial Intelligence. To be able to meet the needs of horticulture, a strong professionalization has also been visible among suppliers and service providers in recent years. They are increasingly specializing in new products and services. To do that successfully, it requires new people with new talents from other industries.

Medicinal cannabis

Mexx Holweg recently started as a Cultivation Consultant at Cultivators. Cultivators is committed to grow business in licensed cannabis and hydroponic leafy greens and herbs. Growing these crops requires in-depth knowledge and expertise and the high tech hydroponic cultivation of these crops is under development and not standard yet. Cultivators supports growers, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders with that. “I come from a part of the Netherlands where there is relatively little horticulture and studied applied biology. When I started my education, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but over time I started to delve more and more into medicinal cannabis.” Holweg therefore started a second study at Wageningen University. For his internship he ended up at Cultivators. “I didn't know the company, but I got the chance to set up my own research. In addition, the managing partners introduced me into the company and its projects, so I learned more and more aspects of the business.”

"This sector has a lot to offer, especially for people from outside the horticultural sector. At first glance, horticulture may not look very appealing to young people, but if you delve into it, you will discover that it is"

In the end, Holweg was offered a job at Cultivators. “That choice was made quickly. Cultivators may be a start-up, but it is an organization with a lot of growth potential in an important market. I had never really looked into horticulture before I started my bachelor, and when I got into medical cannabis, I also focused mainly on abroad. However, I am glad I ended up at Cultivators because this is a unique company.” Holweg got to know horticulture as an international top sector with a very high level of innovation. “This sector has a lot to offer, especially for people from outside the horticultural sector. At first glance, horticulture may not look very appealing to young people, but if you delve into it, you will discover that it is. You can contribute to the world food issue or help build a professional cannabis sector. Ambitious and driven people are needed to tackle these challenges. People with a technical background or with experience in IT are just as important as people with a horticultural background. You can make a difference by looking at the challenges within horticulture from your own perspective.”

"I knew nothing about horticulture, but I immediately thought it was a great sector. It is a sector of hard work. You really have to go for it, but then you also get something beautiful in return"

Zero experience

Robert-Jan de Goeij also had no connection whatsoever with horticulture when he started working in the sector in 2014. He is currently commercial director at Codema, a provider of custom-made horticultural solutions. After studying at Nyenrode Business University, he started working in London for British American Tobacco (BAT) at the age of 25. He quickly became head of the Duty-Free division at BAT as the youngest company expat at that time. The next steps in his career were management jobs at large chemical companies, like ICI (nowadays Akzo-Nobel). For those jobs he moved to Spain for 15 years. In 2014 he returned to the Netherlands for private reasons and decided to change course. “The jobs were not highly available, but in the end, I had the opportunity to choose between continuing in the chemical industry or working for greenhouse builder Dalsem. The adventurer in me chose the second option.” De Goeij became commercial director, while he had zero experience in horticulture. “I knew nothing about horticulture, but I immediately thought it was a great sector. It is a sector of hard work. You really have to go for it, but then you also get something beautiful in return.”

Various aspects of horticulture appeal to De Goeij. “The international character, the way horticulture is handled worldwide, but also the growing investment level and the size of the companies.” De Goeij indicates that his own qualities also come in handy. “I have always been involved with ‘brands’, have a lot of experience with international account management and leading sales teams within the companies I have worked for. Brand management is still in its infancy in horticulture. I was able to successfully pick this up at Dalsem and now I am using my qualities at Codema.” De Goeij has seen the professionalization of horticulture in recent years, which has made technology and automation even more important. “That also requires different competencies than those that were already present in horticulture. I try to contribute to this in my own way, but I also hope that as a sector we can attract more people from outside.”

"If you want to work in an innovative sector at an international level, you should take that step to horticulture like I did. At Codema, but at a lot of other companies too, we can really use talented people to guide us into the future"

Connect with talent

De Goeij believes that horticulture should present itself better to the rest of the world. “And large companies should follow, for example, the chemical companies by recruiting more actively among exam candidates, and bring them in as trainees. That way you can connect with talent at an early stage. For me personally, the step to horticulture has been a good one. It is a competitive world in which there is nevertheless a lot of mutual respect. The Dutch Horticulture is renowned in the world and feels like a very big family, I like that very much. And if you want to work in an innovative sector at an international level, you should take that step to horticulture like I did. At Codema, but at a lot of other companies too, we can really use talented people to guide us into the future.”

Please visit https://hortiheroes.com/traineeship/ for more information.


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