I had a rather disturbing experience at a neighborhood restaurant recently. It wasn’t the food, which was excellent. It was the staff – the very young staff..

I was wearing a “Toy Story” T-shirt that my oldest daughter had bought me for Father’s Day. The woman – child, really – working the cashier saw the shirt and commented that it was one of her favorite movies.

“Ah, childhood memories,” she said.

Childhood memories? Ouch. “Toy Story” came out when I was in college, which still doesn’t seem all that long ago. I started doing the math in my head, and the results weren’t pretty.

I had a similar experience while I was attending the International Poultry Expo a few years ago. I was at the National Provisioner booth when two young men came up and introduced themselves. They had just started a poultry processing company in Minnesota, and they were looking to subscribe to our magazines. I didn’t think they were old enough to drink yet, much less own a business. It turns out I was right about their age, but Darrin and Trent Froemming definitely had the ability to run a meat business.

Despite a prior lack of processing experience, the Froemming brothers have created a very nice success story with TFC Poultry. They have uncovered several niche markets where a small poultry processor can grow, and they’ve worked extremely hard to make their vision a reality. Anyone who thinks that the current generation isn’t willing to work to get ahead ought to spend a few minutes talking with them.

It’s a scene I’m seeing repeated elsewhere in the industry. The current owners of multi-generation family businesses are bringing their sons and daughters aboard, and the children have the drive and dedication to take the business to the next level or to explore a new market. Processors are turning to ag school students and recent graduates to fill a hole in their operations, and the new hires are taking full advantage of the opportunity.

It requires work on both sides of the equation. The young employees have to be willing to listen to industry veterans and learn from their experiences. The vets, in turn, need to create an environment where young workers can gain a broad knowledge base and be made to feel like a valued part of the team and not an unpaid intern.

In an industry that is always on the lookout for fresh blood, it’s gratifying to see the next generation of leaders starting to take shape.