Some college agriculture majors found out last week that internships may be the key in gaining a career in agriculture. Over 60 students attended an agriculture career fair held during the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic in Kearney.
“Internships have become more and more important,” according to Justin Jarecke, who is a territory manager with Merck Animal Health. “If you can get one, that’s a huge step up the ladder.”
Lacey Hall, who is an account specialist with Farm Credit Services, started with the company with an internship while she was still in college. She was at the career fair sharing internship and scholarship opportunities with college students who stopped by their display. “The internships are for students who are pursuing a bachelors degree,” she explains. “If they can get one, the sky is the limit. There is a range of possibilities. They will get involved with our business, and work alongside a loan officer. It is very much a hands-on experience,” she explains.
Hall told students her story of becoming an intern at Farm Credit Services after her sophomore year of college, and how positive the experience was. “Later on, I took a short internship at Union Pacific Railroad, and what these two internships did for me was help me see what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want in a future employer,” she says.
Hall’s advice to the students was to speak up and ask questions. “Your potential employers are not mind-readers,” she says. “If there is something you want to do or learn, don’t be afraid to communicate that to them. You don’t want to be 10 years down the road in a job, and wish you had asked to learn something.”
Interns learn first-hand
Mike Bartels of Bartels Angus, came to the career fair specifically looking for interns. “I am a young producer who started my operation in high school with an FFA project,” he says. “We are growing our family operation, and do some cutting edge stuff at the ranch. We need good employees, and we look for interns because it is a great way for them to get involved in agriculture.”
Bartels has several applicants each year for the intern positions, but not as many as he would like. By attending the career fair, he hopes that will change. “I think there are fewer kids wanting to go into production agriculture, and more wanting to take support jobs like ag sales,” he explains.
Students who are hired as interns at the ranch are assigned different tasks, depending upon their skill set. “I like to teach them the ropes,” he says. “I want them to understand why things are done the way they are. If the interns are more experienced, I may turn them loose with a piece of equipment if they are more geared to the crop-side of things. If they like livestock, they will learn more about livestock care, feeding and management,” he says.
Bartels has had interns of various skill levels. Since he enjoys teaching them about what he does, hiring a novice isn’t an issue at the ranch. “It is more about attitude. I like kids with a can-do attitude that are willing to learn, and take the ball and run with it. I have had interns that I have turned loose with $200,000-$300,000 pieces of equipment, and others that started with shovels and 4-wheelers,” he says.
In the end, his goal is to make the internship a positive experience. “We want to include them in what we are doing, and why we are doing it. I try to make it a teaching experience,” he says.
No ag background, no problem
Jarecke told students not to become discouraged if they don’t have a background in production agriculture. “We have a lot of jobs at Merck where they hire people who have no agriculture background,” he says. Recently, Jarecke says the company hired someone who used to work with I phones at Apple to work with computer programming to determine how much vaccine the company needed to produce.
Katie Oschner, who works with the American Red Angus Association, told students to get involved in different agriculture activities at college and in the community because it can be just as valuable as having an agriculture background. “I would also tell you to try getting an internship at a ranch or farm to get some experience,” she explains.
Hall adds, “There are lots of things you can do to learn about agriculture. You could become an intern for someone, or become involved as a volunteer for 4-H or FFA.”
The agriculture speakers also offer the students advice about getting creative with their resume. “Use key words, and tailor it to fit you and the job you are applying for,” Hall encourages.
Oschner tells students to not be afraid to let their personality shine through in their cover letter, but still keep it clear, concise, well-organized and easy to read. “One of the reasons I got the job I have is because they could see what my personality was like by reading my cover letter, and thought I would be a good fit with the team dynamic,” she says.