Internships give participants an edge and can fast-track a career

Internships can help young people find a career.

In agriculture, one of the most successful internship programs is the nearly 50-year-old initiative led by Growmark, the agricultural co-operative system based in Bloomington,Ill., with a growing presence in Ontario.

Typically, Growmark's 12-week internship attracts about 20 or so students entering their final year of university, mostly in agricultural science or business.

But as admission standards to universities have risen, so have the number of highly qualified students seeking positions.

This year, Growmark almost doubled its intake, expanding its reach to include communications, grain farming, turf and other disciplines.

Among this legion was, for the first time, three university students from the Ontario Growmark-FS co-operative system.

The students and their supervisors assembled in Bloomington recently for a presentation by all the interns, along with a faculty and staff review.

The University of Guelph has been fortunate to have developed a strong relationship with Growmark, one of the few agri-food companies with senior officials bearing titles that identify them as people specially designated to work with universities — such as Steve German, the manager of university relations and member employment, and Cathy Chamberlain, who until recently looked after university relations and communications in Ontario.

Growmark and the university recognize the value to students of internships and other workplace-based learning experiences, such as co-op programs and experiential education courses.

The university values the connection with the sector, and agri-food companies are on the lookout for the next generation of sharp, broadly minded and skilled individuals.

At Growmark, for example, the upper management demographic is not unlike the farm community itself — heavily represented by people with retirement in sight. They have a lot of experience, and they need some time to pass that onto new employees.

What an advantage if those employees already have some knowledge of the company.

And that's long been the situation with Growmark and its interns. In the past two years, more than 70 per cent of those who have interned with the company have become employees. This figure is a bit higher than the historical level, and it may be related to the fact that the interns, according to company officials, are getting so good.

Their internship projects have become extremely focused and applicable, giving them a definite leg up when it comes to hiring.

For example, at the University of Guelph, Ontario Agricultural College business student Kyle Maw worked out of the Growmark Kitchener office, helping streamline an Ontario FS co-operative network's warehousing and inventory process.

The efficiencies he created in conjunction with his Growmark supervisor saved the company a whopping $35,000 in inventory costs in just a few months.

The other Ontario interns, from Brock University and Laurentian University, helped create an online catalogue of products for the Vineland Growers co-op, and assisted with a new accounting system for an FS co-operative near Sudbury.

The Ontario students were part of what German called an extremely gifted class of interns. Others from universities in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin took on weighty internship projects, too. They covered everything from information management to the economics of insecticide applications, from market share analysis to global positioning systems.

Clearly, they weren't filling in for summer vacation leaves or answering phones.

These were substantial projects with tangible results that look great on a resumé, and help the company improve.

Some say companies hire for attitude, and train for skill. I think that's true, but even when jobs are plentiful, there's still competition for the best positions and skilled people.

Internships give participants an extra edge in the skill department. And when it comes to improving the abilities of the province's workforce, that edge is key.

About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.