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Seeding the workforce


Two years ago, Chad Robinson was facing a tough job market as he began interviewing for his first job out of college.

By November, after interviewing with about 10 companies, the Purdue University senior was offered a management trainee position with Pioneer Hi-Bred International at its Johnston campus.

“I had a lot of friends who were unable to find positions,” said   Robinson, who has a degree in agricultural economics. “I was extremely happy to get something with Pioneer.”

Management training and internship programs allow companies to attract talented graduates and students, who in return gain valuable experience and often end up staying with the company.

Pioneer, the world’s No. 1 maker of genetically engineered corn seed, recruits at six different Midwestern universities for its management assistant program, which averages about 30 participants at any given time.

Meanwhile, for college students, the economy has meant internships are increasingly unpaid – but no less valuable for securing a full-time job.

Pioneer’s 11-year-old management training program is popular, said Carla Cain, Pioneer’s manager of employment services. “We probably only hire 2 to 3 percent of the resumes that we get,” she said.

Participants are hired as full-time employees and are assigned to one of four supply management areas. They’re given the opportunity to lead projects, take part in a formal mentoring program and attend meetings with senior management. They must also complete a two-year training curriculum, but can apply for open management positions at any time.

“One thing I like about (the program) is it gives me the opportunity to learn about different aspects of the company,” Robinson said. For instance, he has spent a day with a Pioneer sales manager to see how decisions made in supply management affects sales and other aspects of the company.

Working in supply management, Robinson analyzes growth data on corn and soybean seeds to monitor the quality of the seeds before they’re sold.

“That’s what I really enjoy,” he said. “Hopefully there will be an open position there soon.”

The program is providing some dedicated employees, Cain said.

“We can tell from our statistics that the turnover with these management assistants is a lot lower than with the rest of the company,” she said.

Prior to coming to Pioneer, Robinson had three internship experiences, which he said benefited him in landing the training position with the company. He has worked as a crop scout, surveying field conditions; he also spent a summer abroad in Honduras and another summer as an intern at a grain elevator.

Because internships allow students to form connections with companies before they graduate, they are one of the most effective ways of encouraging graduates to stay in Central Iowa, said David Maxwell, president of Drake University.


Three years ago, Maxwell developed the Drake-Des Moines Corporate Partners Scholarship Program, designed for companies to provide scholarships to second-semester sophomores for their last two years of college. Pioneer, Wellmark, Wells Fargo and Principal Financial Group are among the companies that have provided scholarships so far, and the majority of the students are now working for their sponsoring companies.

Students receive the award in their junior year, and begin working as a summer intern following their junior year, and then work up to 20 hours per week for the company in their senior year. In all but one case, the companies have offered full scholarships, including room and board.

The $50,000 a company invests in a full scholarship is about half of what it costs a company to train and hire a management trainee, Maxwell said. “And when that student starts, they’re not a new employee,” he said. “It’s a great way of seeding the workforce and we’d like to see it expand.”

So far, six companies have participated in the program, with eight students receiving scholarships, said Joan Hitzell, director of Drake’s career center.

Because most of the companies providing the scholarships are at-will employers, “so at the completion of the internship they’ll work with them to find employment, but it’s not mandatory employment,” she said.      FEWER PAID INTERNSHIPS

Internships are plentiful, but are more likely than ever to be unpaid. That’s the case at Simpson College, where there are more internships available than there are students to fill them, said Denice Ross Haynes, director of counseling and career services.

“When the economy was good, internships were paid. Now, with today’s economy being what it is, I think it’s going to take a minute to catch on that the paid opportunities are not as plentiful anymore, and that if I want that experience I’m going to have to take an unpaid position.”

Among Simpson students, internships with not-for-profit organizations are the most popular, Haynes said.

“The ones in the financial services industry tend not to be as popular at first glance,” she said. “We’re encouraging employers to be more creative in terms of how they’re recruiting and getting their message out. We encourage them to be visible and come out and talk to our students and let them know what they can potentially earn.”

Pioneer receives between 1,000 and 1,500 resumes per year from students interested in internships. Last summer, 46 interns from 18 universities worked at the company’s facilities throughout the Midwest. Each student completing an internship receives a $1,000 stipend.

The internship and management assistant programs allow the company to bring in talented students and graduates, and to groom new talent to assume management roles in the future, Cain said.

“Also, there’s just the whole issue of branding – equating the name of Pioneer to a quality product and as a great place to work,” she said. “Even if they don’t end up working here, we want them to walk away with that. Probably only 10 to 15 percent of our hires are coming out of college, but we’re always looking for them to return once they gain more experience.”

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