June 2020 - 8

HEADLINES/CALENDAR
Tips for a Successful Horticultural Internship
By Holly Scoggins, Director of Educational Programming, AmericanHort
A good portion of my academic career has been spent
advising horticulture undergraduates in both coursework and
internship/career options. At Virginia Tech, literally hundreds
of internship opportunities come through the " hortmajors "
email listserv each semester - public horticulture, landscape
design/build,
retailers,
interiorscapers,
greenhouse and nursery growers,
vegetable or fruit farms,
management, cooperative Extension, non-profits, and, more
recently, hemp and cannabis.
With far more internship opportunities than students to fill
them, competition among businesses and institutions can be
fierce. The top internships sell themselves - and receive more
applicants than they can accept. Without fail, these experiences
are well-organized, rewarding, creatively advertised and easy to
apply for. Following are some tips for those new to creating an
internship program, struggling to find sufficient applicants, or
dissatisfied with the internship experience.
The best and brightest students plan ahead. Decisions
regarding the following summer are being made in the fall.
Internships advertised over final exams, the winter holidays or
spring will receive fewer quality applicants. Students in twoyear
programs usually take one " middle summer. " Motivated
four-year (often five-year) students will take advantage of
multiple internships.
Think beyond the three-month option. Obviously for
grower and retail positions, the heat of the battle is in Spring.
Unfortunately, most students aren't available until May -
and then only for 12 weeks (unless graduating). However, if
an amazing opportunity presents itself, the student may be
willing to forego one semester in addition to summer.
Or perhaps a student is graduating in December but prefers
an internship experience to a job commitment. Be sure the
benefits of the longer-term internship outweigh the financial
burdens of an additional year of college expenses incurred;
a student may have to attend for an additional year to snag
offered-only-in-spring courses.
Seek out academic advisors and office administrators
in horticulture and related departments to help distribute
the announcement on student listservs and/or websites. In
addition to the usual listserv, most colleges and universities
have career centers that maintain job and internship banks and
host career fairs or other events. Consider reaching out to the
student horticulture, agronomy, or turf club and offer to speak
at or sponsor a meeting. For the price of a few pizzas, you can
share your internship message with a highly motivated group.
Does your internship description speak to Gen Z?
Emphasize experiential learning and that they will have
the opportunity to make a difference. Help the internship
stand out by highlighting sustainable practices, collaborative
company culture, investment in technology, etc.
8 | LAWN & GARDEN RETAILER | JUNE 2020
Keep the announcement focused and upbeat. Describe in
garden
turf
a few bullet points what the student will learn, experience, gain,
etc. Do not deploy a laundry list of skills required or tasks to be
performed; those kinds of details can be conveyed in a followup
message or conversation when things get serious. Know
that email is not the favored means of communication for this
current crop of students. Minimize the steps needed to get your
message across. I've seen plenty of internship announcements
distributed to the listserv that are PDFs or Word docs attached
to an email, subject line " internship, " with no indication of
who/where/what in the body of the email. That's not going to
get opened.
Provide a diverse but well-organized program. If at all
possible, allow the student to work with as many facets of your
organization as reasonable. Rotating through the organization
with spending a week or two in propagation, growing, sales,
design build, whatever you've got. Students are comfortable
with a syllabus format - outline specific start and end dates
for each segment, and describe topics and experiences, along
with the point person for that facet. Some schools require a
sort of " contract " with the previous information-both parties
sign at the beginning, then review/debrief at the end. This is
a wonderful extra effort that really formalizes the process and
helps hold both the intern and the employer accountable.
The search for housing can be intimidating. Many
students default to hometown internships (which can be few
and far between in some parts of the county) and miss out
on life-changing opportunities simply because of fear of the
unknown. It's also an additional expense (standard collegetown
apartment leases can be 12 month) so the student may
be already paying rent for an unused apartment. Offering a
housing option - whether a sublet, Airbnb, or other, it could
really widen your pool of applicants.
Offer a professional development/learning opportunity
beyond the day-to-day responsibilities. This can be as simple
as a field trip to a business in another part of the supply chain.
For example, if the internship is with a finishing grower, visit
cultivar trials, a young plant grower, or a fantastic retailer.
Public garden visits are a popular option as well. Or take it to
the next level and offer paid travel to and registration for a local
or regional symposium or conference.
Good things can indeed come to an end. Though
internships can certainly serve as a pipeline for future
employees, there does not have to be an open position waiting
at the end of it all. Be upfront about the situation, and it won't
be an issue.
Finally, just as important as that light-bulb moment of
" THIS is what I want to do! " , an internship is just as valuable
(and a lower-impact situation than a job) for the student to
discover what they DON'T want to do.

June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of June 2020

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