We all can picture the images of a student intern getting coffee for the supervisor, making stacks of copies, or washing the boss’s car. Movies such as “The Internship” and “The Intern” bring light to the funny situations many interns are put into in their quest to learn about the job they dream about. However, most of those irrelevant internship positions are long gone and students are truly learning key skills on the job.
I remember my two internships from years ago which taught me a number of good lessons: An internship with a radio company which had the broadcast rights to the Little League World Series and was covering the World Softball Championships seemed to be a great fit — until I actually was asked to go on air. I learned quickly that was not for me (which is also a good lesson internships can provide for students). Although, my other internship in sports information developed skills writing and designing media guides which I am still using today.
A former business student of mine, Alex Weldon, reiterated that point. “Internships allow people to find out about the job, what they like and what they dislike,” he said.
Weldon had landed a part-time job and an internship with Pioneer while he was a student at Bethany Lutheran College. He found out he liked the industry, stayed with it, and is now a territory manager with Pioneer — something he never thought he would be doing.
Since 2013, approximately 60 percent of U.S. undergraduates completed at least one internship, while 50 percent of those students completed at least two. More importantly, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 70 percent of organizations with internships offered full-time positions to their interns; and 80 percent ended up taking the position. In addition, an internal internship increased the one and five-year retention rate of the employee.
Overall, students with any internship experience have a higher rate of employment upon graduation than those without. NACE also noted more than a third of undergraduates had more than one internship. To that point, Good Thunder native and Minnesota State University, Mankato graduate Tim Huebsch is an internship proponent and credited his multiple internships for getting and staying in a 20-year technology career at General Mills.
GreenSeam’s 2021 State of Ag report examined talent aspects in the agriculture and food industries. The top themes emerging were education and awareness of the available careers. Respondents offered a number of options for students to learn about the careers. However, the top option was through offering internships.
The agriculture industry needs to offer internships if it wants to increase awareness and attract talent — not only to agriculture students, but students in other majors. In addition to getting some extra work done, the advantage to the employer is the students gain valuable experience which makes them more hirable. The GreenSeam State of Ag report found businesses’ most sought-after aspect in hiring was experience (79 percent), while higher education in agriculture was second (47 percent). Internships done well can help address that need of students gaining experience and filling company positions.
Many regional higher education institutions support this concept by requiring or at least highly encouraging students to complete an internship. For example, the South Central College Agribusiness program requires a 528-hour internship — usually in the summer between the students’ first and second year. SCC typically has 40-50 students each year working across the industry of agriculture and food in a wide array of positions. They learn about responsibility, working conditions and contributing to the industry at a key time with the employers — providing a mutual opportunity to discover the right fit for talent needs.
Minnesota State Mankato finance student Cole Bouche grew up in a large city and had no prior experience in agriculture or rural careers. This past summer he did an internship with the FDIC in southern Minnesota. “Examining financial needs of rural areas taught me more about seasonal nature of agriculture,” he said. “I learned farming communities also rely on the farmers and other ag businesses to stimulate the economy of their town. From an overall financial standpoint, the agriculture business is what keeps smaller areas afloat.”
In one of my former businesses, each summer we would hire about 30 interns to help with the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp in Mankato, Minn. Many of the hundreds of applicants saw the opportunity to work for their favorite sports team and hang around the stars. The lucky ones who were offered the position soon found out that was not the case as they learned what it actually took to do the job. Yes, they got some interaction with the players, but it was about management of fans, vendors, media, lost kids, storms, and long hot days — not to mention truckloads of garbage! It was not all the glamour they thought it would be.
Weldon also commented on the same thing about careers in agriculture, but contrary. He said, “Ag jobs are actually better than what they may seem from the outside.”
Organizations need to take note: internships are a great way to show the next generation a prosperous career path in agriculture and food they may have never have thought of before. If you need assistance in starting an internship program, please contact me and I will help connect you to one of the many educational institutions in the region. Creating internship opportunities are definitely worthy of the effort of all of us.
Dr. Shane Bowyer is the Director of AgriBusiness and Food Innovation at Minnesota State University, Mankato and on the GreenSeam Talent Committee. You can reach him for comments or talent ideas at email@example.com