Building the next generation of leaders is the key to any successful dealership. That leadership journey can start during a recruit’s education as an internship opportunity.
More and more dealerships are offering precision farming internships to both high school and/or college students to give them a taste for what working at a dealership entails.
Nebraska Equipment, a single-store Case IH dealership in Seward, Neb., is one of those dealerships that has successfully developed a precision internship. Kenny Pekarek, sales manager with Nebraska Equipment, says that the dealership is looking to expand their internship program next year to include an intern for the service side.
“Especially in recent years, I’m seeing that dealers seem to be more proactive in going beyond just their local colleges and trying to set up more formal partnerships to get student interns,” Pekarek says.
Nebraska Equipment has partnerships with Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb., and Southeast Community College in Milford, Neb. The dealership has partnered with Southeast Community College for nearly 20 years.
Structuring an Internship
Pekarek recognizes the challenge of making sure leadership within the dealership are on board before beginning to put together an internship and starting the hiring process.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the general manager,” he says. Once leadership has bought in, it’s time to get started.
“Interns have to have a willingness to learn and some farm background knowledge,” Pekarek says. “It’s nice if they know different brands, but they’ve got to be open-minded. An intern might figure out that he likes sales or working with a specific brand or something like that.”
Nebraska Equipment’s first intern, Brennan Roth from Milford, Neb., took precision agriculture classes during the 2018-2019 school year, which should greatly benefit him as he returns to intern with Nebraska Equipment again this summer.
Roth has completed an Associate’s degree in Agribusiness from Northeast Community College and will be finishing an Associate’s degree in Precision Agriculture, also from Northeast Community College, during the 2019-2020 academic year.
“My ideal position would be something working in precision ag and ag sales,” says Roth.
“It will be interesting to see what he learned,” Pekarek says. “He’s one of those hands-on kids who is pretty knowledgeable and learns quickly. He wants to go into precision, so we encouraged him. Just because he’s going into precision doesn’t mean that’s where he’s going to end up, because a lot of things change.”
Roth acknowledges the course work has lessened the precision learning curve during his internship. “Knowing all the components in the system is really important.,” he says.
Pekarek says that providing a quality precision internship experience means providing multiple learning opportunities and letting the student indicate what they want to learn about.
“Be open to what that student might be interested in, which might be sales, irrigation, tractor sales, etc. Or they might not like the hardware, but they might like the software side..." — Kenny Pekarek, Nebraska Equipment
“Since planting season is going to be about over when Brennan starts, we’re still going to go out and talk to farmers and teach him things,” Pekarek says. “He’ll help me with inventory and invoicing and tasks like that. If we’re going to have a slow period in the summer, then that’s when we use the intern for other things. It would be nice to have a dual role for an internship, and that’s what we’re thinking down the road.”
Some dealerships opt to keep a running list of projects that an intern can assist with any time or take some time prior to the intern starting to create a list of projects.
Seeking High-Quality Candidates
Pekarek recommends that students interested in an internship have a dual major, with at least one of them being in ag business or business. “Any kind of agri-science would be a good idea to go along with precision,” he adds.
Pekarek also points out that collegiate programs training future employees should be sure to train students on being able to work with multiple brands of equipment.
“That’s pretty important, because we go to a farm and the farmer might have two or three different brands, and not everybody runs the same thing,” he says. “Be open to what that student might be interested in, which might be sales, irrigation, tractor sales, etc. Or they might not like the hardware, but they might like the software side.”
Successes & Challenges
Although Nebraska Equipment just started their internship program in 2018, Pekarek notes that it was a huge learning experience for both Roth and dealership staff.
“One thing we’ve learned is not to throw an intern out there with a customer when he’s green,” Pekarek says. “I noticed with students that they tend to get a little embarrassed or scared, but they won’t admit to a customer that they don’t know something. They may act like they know what they’re doing, but they don’t. Encourage them to say, ‘I don’t know’, ‘Let me find out,’ or ‘Let me get somebody else that does know.’”
Roth concurs that the learning curve can be steep.
“Learning the computer system with the inventory was the biggest challenge for me,” he says. “Without knowing how to navigate through that, it was hard to help customers get the parts they need. I also got the chance to install auto-steer on a Case IH 470 Rowtrac tractor. It was so satisfying to know that I could do it myself, with only minimal checking after I was finished.”
Young people today have an advantage in their ease for working with technology, according to Pekarek, and that can be an attractive quality for dealers when seeking precision interns.
“We were demonstrating a new Case IH AFS Connect Magnum 340 tractor that came with factory guidance and the new AFS Pro 1200 on it,” Pekarek says. “I showed this young guy — he’s probably 21 or 22 — how to run it. I checked back with him in an hour, and he knew how to run that monitor.”
Teaching young people how to build relationships in the business has been one of the big takeaways for Pekarek from the dealership’s internship program.
“That’s one thing that intrigued me because we talked about that a lot with our intern,” Pekarek says. “That’s very important. He always has a lot of questions and it’s amazing what goes through kids’ minds, because they’re always thinking. He was wanting to learn as he went along and it helped us grow, too.”
“Learning about building customer relationships was the most valuable thing I learned during my internship,” Roth adds. “Talking with customers is the biggest part of sales and precision. Having that face-to-face interaction with them is huge.”