Foodservice is a very dynamic and complex industry. For many of us lucky to work in foodservice, we thrive on the fact that no two days or two customers are alike.

Kelly Kavanaugh
Kelly Kavanaugh, Sales Representative, Mirkovich and Associates Lombard, Ill.

The fact that today I may be training someone on a new piece of equipment and tomorrow I may be in a meeting with a chain account is just the type of diversification that makes me and members of my generation thrive.

The diverse nature of our business is one of many factors that make this industry simultaneously enticing and challenging. Unless you grew up in the industry, which unfortunately I did not, foodservice tends to be one of the best kept secrets when it comes to college graduates assessing their career options. I know this because I speak from experience.

In December 2007 I graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in marketing and a minor in Spanish and promptly took a minimum wage job in a mall near my home. After only a short time it became painfully obvious that I was wasting my education and needed to do more with my life.

Around that time, Carl Boutilier, president and principal at Mirkovich and Associates contacted me to see if I knew any recent grads in the market for an entry-level sales position. Having interned at Mirkovich while in college, I was somewhat familiar with the company and interested in the position for myself. So I threw my hat into the ring and have been happy ever since the company hired me.

Like many young people today, I had no idea how big and dynamic the foodservice industry really is. Prior to interning with Mirkovich, my only experience in foodservice was going to a restaurant to eat when hungry. I had no idea so many companies manufacture refrigerators, for example. Nor did I understand how restaurants leverage their supply chain to equip their facilities.

One thing I learned quickly is that the foodservice industry has plenty of room for people with new ideas. In fact, my most rewarding experiences are when I get to teach the industry veterans how new, innovative pieces of equipment can improve and enhance their operations, and also improve the quality of food.

The problem is people just don't know this industry exists. A lot of my friends don't understand what I do. To them I just "sell ovens." But there is much more to it than that. Like many of you reading this, I have found that to build a career in this industry you have to draw on multiple disciplines, ranging from accounting to marketing to psychology and countless others.

One of the ongoing challenges foodservice professionals face is making sure the industry gains awareness among young people as they start making career choices. We need to be present at career fairs, recruit on campuses, post on job boards, and need to show recent graduates all the opportunities the foodservice industry can offer.

It is incumbent upon us to let them know they can travel so many different avenues toward success — from marketing to engineering to accounting to culinary — and it is pretty short-sighted not to consider foodservice as a career.

One by one, our current industry leaders will eventually retire. It is the shared responsibility of us all to continue to cultivate the talent pool to ensure the foodservice industry remains poised to thrive for years to come.