How should precision farming dealers structure internships with local educational institutions and what benefits — both short and long term — should dealers see from these partnerships?
“Internships offer many benefits to students and employers. Students have the chance to get exposed to parts of the ag industry that they have not experienced before and can find out what they do or do not like to do. Employers benefit in the short term by having some quality summer help.
“A positive, or negative experience by the intern will no doubt be shared with his or her fellow classmates and instructors which can affect future interns and full-time job candidates' decisions. The ultimate long term benefit of a positive internship experience is the intern moving into a full-time position upon graduation.
“I would encourage employers to attend university career fairs in the fall as most students secure internships during the fall semester 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.
“The internships that we strongly promote to our students are ones 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.
“Internships have become very competitive. Ten or 15 years ago, internships were paid closer to minimum wage and the intern was responsible for covering their own living expenses. Today, interns are typically paid from $12-$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.
“A precision farming specialist position is not well understood by many. In fact, there may be some fear among job seekers about getting into a position like this because of the unknown. I see precision farming internships as a effective way to overcome this and build more interest in positions in this established, yet continually-growing field of the ag industry. With the tight supply of hard-working and capable job seekers in the ag industry, internships offer employers a way to attract and secure great talent.”
— Craig Smith, Fort Hays State Univ., Hays, Kan.
“Each local community college or university already has a format they use for scheduling internships, as well as hours and eligibility requirements. Interested dealers should contact their schools 3-6 months ahead of the season and work out arrangements for intern placement.
“At Lincoln Land Community College, ours are timed to coincide with either 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.
“They provide encouragement, internship sites, and, in some cases, sponsor a student's education. By paying a student's tuition and fees, they get a well trained employee who is contracted to work for at least 2 years.
“The most obvious benefit for dealers is better access to students and potential employees to meet their current labor needs. Long term, dealers will develop relationships with college and university precision agriculture programs, and will be the first ones we think of when trying to place quality students.
“Area employers have often told us they have difficulty finding qualified employees who they can count on. These same firms are going to provide feedback to the colleges, either informally or by serving on advisory councils, as to what topics need to be taught to better prepare students for entry into the workplace. This will help the schools stay current with what the industry needs. Everyone wins through these partnerships —students, schools, and businesses.”
— Bill Harmon, Lincoln Land College, Springfield, Ill.
“Internships are a great ‘test drive’ for both the dealer and student to see if this is the right fit for potential full time employment opportunities. For short term benefits, students are filling an immediate need during some busy times of the year.
“Our interns are available starting in early March so they can provide additional support during some of the busiest times of the year. The biggest benefit I see is long term. Dealers can build a network of reliable and skillful individuals to work with their company immediately or down the road if a full time position is not applicable at the end of the internship period. This also gives dealers the opportunity to mold future employees to fit their future needs.
“I feel the best way to structure a precision agriculture internship is to make it as versatile as possible. Get the intern into as many different/unique situations as you can. It’s easy to just have them install one type of monitor, but that isn't doing the intern or dealer any favors long term. It fills an immediate need, but you need to diversify your future employees.
“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. By following these guidelines 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.”
— Brad Kinsinger, Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo, Iowa
“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 you are interested in partnering with. If you do not know who the contact person is, almost all higher education institutions have a general information number that you can call.
“Some of the common requirements of internship programs include: paid work experience, established number of hours, work experience that is aligned with the program competencies and direct supervision/mentoring of the student intern. Internship programs are designed to give students real-world work experience in their field of study. “The benefits to the students include exploration of careers within the field, an opportunity to network with industry professionals, exposure to current industry practices and technologies, and application of their college coursework.
“Participating employers benefit from the partnership with colleges/universities by gaining a direct link to trained and skilled employees. In many cases, interns maintain full time employment after graduation at the internship employer.”
— Aliesha Crowe, Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire,Wis.
“A big advantage that students would see from an internship is flexibility in their schedules. Students have many obligations taking up their time. If the internships were offered with both daily and monthly schedule flexibility, more students could take advantage. 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.
“The short term benefit for dealers would be to educate individual students on the use and advantages of their systems. Students would likely spread the word to their circle of contacts about these advantages. The student would gain knowledge that he or she could share.
“The long term benefit would come when the student progressed through their career and became industry leaders themselves. Not unlike the loyalty developed with equipment lines, these students would favor the systems that they learned on, probably for their entire career.
“Educational institutions such as ours focus on the basics behind old and new technology. We rely on dealerships and current users to provide our students with practical experience using the technology that is commercially available. The main way our students gain that practical experience is through internship programs.
“As educators, we monitor and evaluate students’ progress during their internship and supplement information as needed. 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.”
— Bill Worthington, Ogeechee Technical College, Statesboro, Ga.
“Since academic institutions desire to broaden the learning experience of students through real-world exposure to worksites, precision farming dealers might consider structuring internships in blocks of time, perhaps three months or so. Agricultural activity in North America occurs astride typical academic calendars. Therefore, these internships could be part-time while the student also pursues coursework.
“Several benefits for dealers include, additional help during intervals when all staff on the payroll are fully engaged, like springtime; an advance look at a potential future employee; opportunity to function in an instructional role within a precision agriculture training program since the intern’s worksite will provide core on-the-job instruction; a chance to participate on an advisory structure for a precision agriculture training program; and hopefully, an opportunity for the receiving worksite to capitalize upon new ideas and student vigor.
“Precision farming dealers exploring establishment of an intern position may wish to consider a few matters. Since most internships are structured as experiences for academic credit — typically 1-3 semester hours — behavioral objectives for the internship will have been established by the educational institution. Beware if those objectives don’t exist or are not disclosed to you in writing ahead of time.
“An instructional member of the institution will appear at the worksite several times during the internship to ensure the intern is doing work representative of that required for academic credit and is contributing.
“As a precision farming dealership, you should expect to see a written agreement between the educational institution and you. 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.”
— Paul Gunderson, Lake Region State College, Devils Lake, N.D.