Internships offer many benefits to students and employers. Students get exposed to segments of agriculture they have not experienced, and employers benefit from quality, short-term help. University and trade school professionals share some tips that can help dealers set up a mutually beneficial internship program.
“A positive or negative intern experience will no doubt be shared with his or her fellow classmates and instructors, which can affect future interns and full-time job candidates’ decisions,” says Craig Smith, assistant professor of agriculture at Fort Hays State Univ. in Hayes, Kan. “The ultimate long-term benefit of a positive internship experience is the intern moving into a full-time position upon graduation.”
Educators share some helpful tips on setting up a win-win internship:
1. Start early. “Employers should attend university career fairs in the fall when students secure internships for the following summer. If you start looking for an intern in March or April for the upcoming summer, you may find that most of the good candidates already have plans,” Smith says.
2. Add variety. “We strongly promote internships that expose the intern to a variety of roles with the company. Precision farming internships, by the nature of the position, tend to have good variety. Students often get exposed to everything from sales, equipment setup, data management, troubleshooting and maintenance,” says Smith.
“Get the intern into as many different or unique situations as you can. It’s also important to give interns some freedom so they have to problem-solve on their own and aren’t always coming to you for immediate answers,” says Brad Kinsinger, instructor at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa. “That way, you can evaluate how interns perform in a variety of areas and settings to find their strengths and how they handle adversity when things don’t go just right.”
3. Pay what the position is worth. Internships have become very competitive. Today, interns are typically paid from $12-to-$17 per hour and housing costs are covered to some degree. “Some ag businesses also pay back student loans if the intern goes to work full-time for them upon graduation,” Smith adds.
4. Follow the school’s format. Each local community college or university already has a format they use for scheduling internships, as well as hours and eligibility requirements, says Bill Harmon, professor of agronomy at Lincoln Land College, Springfield, Ill. “Contact the school 3-6 months ahead of the season and work out arrangements for intern placement. We time internships to coincide with spring planting, summer spray season or fall harvest. The best internships are those that provide students with a variety of experiences, while giving dealers qualified workers, both now and after the student graduates,” he says.
5. Know the requirements; one size does not fit all. “Internship programs are unique to the university or college — and perhaps even the program — in which the student is enrolled. To determine the best internship structure for your dealership and the local college/university, contact the dean or program faculty at the college/university,” says Aliesha Crowe, Dean of Industry, Agriculture and Energy at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, Wis. “Work closely with the school to make sure your internship meets their requirements.”
6. Be flexible. Some students might be able to work full time for a limited period of time — maybe a month — while others could work part time for a longer period of time, says Bill Worthington, agribusiness instructor at Ogeechee Technical College Statesboro, Ga.
“As educators, we monitor and evaluate students’ progress during their internship and supplement information as needed,” he says. “We are restricted somewhat though in coordinating our educational schedules with the schedules of the real world. If businesses could be more accommodating to our students as to their schedules, it would open up a tremendous resource for our students.”
7. Cooperate with internship mentors. Most internships are structured as experiences for academic credit, typically 1-3 hours. Be aware that there are educational objectives that must be met.
“An instructional member of the institution may appear at the worksite several times during the internship to ensure the intern is doing work representative of that required for academic credit,” says Paul Gunderson, instructor at Lake Region State College, Devils Lake, N.D. Expect to see a written agreement between the educational institution and the dealership, he advises. “That agreement spells out the objectives of the proposed internship, student/trainee learning outcomes, expectations in terms of working hours, start and ending times for each day, shift work — if any — type of work dress expected, workforce insurance coverage matters and procedures to end an internship should intern performance or other problems emerge.”