Ever Considered a Career in Coffee? 5 Reasons Why You Should
It’s well-known that coffee is on the rise in Rwanda. Where once the country shipped out C-grade beans, the lowest quality, now you’ll find Rwandan coffee in some of the most exclusive coffee shops and stores around the world.
As demand for Rwandan coffee grows, so do the jobs. But coffee has a reputation to shake. Educated Rwandans are after the sexier careers in finance, banking, or IT. The big secret is that the coffee industry has plenty of professional jobs with competitive pay and opportunities for rapid advancement. Plus, coffee companies are hungry for talented individuals.
To find out the full scoop on careers in coffee, we sat down with Jean Jacques Ndayisenga, operations manager at Rwanda Trading Company (RTC), which processes and exports coffee. Ndayisenga didn’t plan to go into coffee — he studied economics at a U.S. university and worked in health insurance immediately after graduation — but after returning to Rwanda in 2014, he connected with Clay Parker, managing director at RTC, who offered him a job as operations manager.
Ndayisenga has thrived in the role and now encourages fellow Rwandan professionals to consider a career path in coffee. Here’s his take on why people should consider jobs in the field.
1. The reputation of Rwandan coffee is growing
In every major city in the world — London, Boston, New York, Paris– you can find a coffee shop or cafe that carries Rwandan coffee. Of course we’d like to see it on every block, but even now, if you want it, you will find it. The reputation of Rwandan coffee is growing.
For a long time we traded semi-washed, which is very low quality, but now we are trading more in fully washed coffee, and people are starting to associate Rwandan with high-quality coffee. Fully washed coffee requires more processing, so that creates more jobs.
2. The industry needs people from all professions
The industry really spans a range of professions, especially if you look down the supply chain. For instance, in a washing station, we have managers, people in charge of quality, accountants, and machine operators, to name a few. At the dry mill level, you have jobs in general administration, operations, sales, and the production process. We also need technicians and electricians, construction experts, and people to handle water and sanitation. We have lab attendants who test and grade the coffee, and agronomists who work in the field to improve our coffee.
So you don’t have to be a finance or economics major like myself to work in the industry. You could be a social worker running farmer impact programs. The sustainability aspect of the business is growing, and many exporters are trying to do more than just buy from farmers — they want to ensure that farmers can make a living, so they’ll people to run programs that train farmers on how improve their yields. As you can see, there are a lot of job opportunities in coffee.
3. Do what you love and earn a good salary
The industry needs more professionals. In Rwanda, agriculture still supports the majority of the population, but often people graduate and they look for the high-profile jobs. They don’t understand that coffee can be a good career — they think it’s just about farming.
The professional culture here tends to be that if you went to school in finance, then you go work in a bank. If you went to school in civil engineering, then you look for a job with a construction firm. But you need to think outside of the box and realize that you could be doing finance outside of a bank; you don’t need to work at a construction company to do construction work. The coffee industry has jobs in these fields and many others.
If you’re looking for a job and you have management or finance skills, then you could start at a washing station and over time move to a position at the exporting level or you could manage a production line. People should realize that you can make a good income and take care your family with a career in coffee.
In Rwanda, agriculture still supports the majority of the population, but often people graduate and they look for the high-profile jobs. They don’t understand that coffee can be a good career — they think it’s just about farming.
4. Continue learning and growing
The industry is exciting. You’re dealing with different things every day, so the job never gets boring. You are constantly thinking about new things and ways to improve and change the business model. I feel like the coffee business has this entrepreneurial spirit in that you don’t get comfortable. The feeling that, “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I can keep doing these things the same way,” doesn’t happen here. You’re dealing with new things every day, and people who can handle that kind of environment are the ones who thrive in this industry.
5. Grow your professional network
In coffee you’re interacting with a wide range of people. On one end, you have farmers and local traders, and on the other, you have buyers from the U.S. and Europe. You can end up working with government representatives, the private sector, and international businesspeople. The opportunity to work with so many different types of people is an added bonus. You gain exposure to new ideas and build your professional network. Not all industries offer opportunities like that.