By Craig W. Anderson
LAST SUMMER, San Joaquin Farm Bureau and San Joaquin Delta College both thought it was time to discuss and then put into action a student intern program for local farmers, ranchers and ag businesses in the county.
“It’s the classic win-win situation,” said Dr. Omid Pourzanjani, superintendent/president of Delta College. “Students will gain the experience they need to succeed long-term in agriculture, while simultaneously supporting the county’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.”
SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett Blodgett said ag is trending toward the technical side via mechanized harvesting and computerized equipment.
“Long and successful careers are available and great opportunities are there for both interns and those hiring them,” Blodgett said.
American AgCredit, a leading ag financial institution, has, through their internship program, established a strong commitment to fostering the next generation of professionals serving the ag industry, according to Dawn Melikant, talent manager-emerging talent programs. “American AgCredit is, obviously, agriculture oriented and over the years, many interns have continued their careers with American AgCredit.”
American AgCredit and other agricultural businesses across the board will be able to benefit from the San Joaquin Delta College, San Joaquin County Farm Bureau intern program.
An internship provides a situation for the intern to determine how interested he or she is in continuing with a career in agriculture and the business person can likewise evaluate the intern.
This business philosophy works very well for companies like American AgCredit which has been folding in innovation and technology and, said Melikant, “We continue to provide access to programs after their internships have ended.”
The question asked of growers, noted Pourzanjani, is: “Could you use additional skilled labor at your farm or production facility?” He said the Farm Bureau/Delta College team encourages local growers to “reach out to the college regarding student interns.”
The discussions initiating the program have now reached the establishment of Delta’s new 1,000 Internships Initiative, a “bold plan to provide job training and financial resources to our students” the school said. The program is exactly what the title portends: 1,000 paid internships that will sustain workers financially, with Delta College providing $2 million to support the initiative and with San Joaquin County providing another $2 million. And Delta College is also covering insurance.
Interns will cost employers nothing – although Delta College does ask employers to consider donating to the Delta College Foundation to ensure the program continues.
“We ask community partners and employers to stand with us in helping unemployed and underemployed students and their families get back on their feet with living wage salaries, said Dr. Pourzanjani.
Of the internship program, Jim Ferrari – a diversified Linden farmer – had this to say: “It will be wonderful because older guys are phasing out [of farming] and this intern program will prepare new people to step in.”
He also said it will be a good way to determine if an intern has what it takes to be successful in the career they’re pursuing. “And it will allow the intern to see if they’re on the right track for themselves.”
“With the scarcity of workers and potentially managers and owners too, this program has come along at just the right time,” Ferrari said.
This type of program is indicative of how education is changing, said SJFB President David Strecker. “Technical education is growing and a more hands-on approach is coming into play. The new superintendent/president is very committed to the ag department and the community where agriculture and education link up to create careers.”
The heightened interest in agriculture education begins in the county’s high schools where ag and FFA unite in a powerful gestalt that leads to more interest in ag and thus more interns who may carry that interest into agricultural careers.
Interns may be available in agriculture and related fields, including: plant science, horticulture, pest control advisor, ag business, ag engineering, animal husbandry, machining, welding, diesel, electronics, machine and industrial technology.
“These courses are tied in with the county’s high school ag programs which, in turn, give impetus to college courses and continued interest,” said SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel, a walnut and cherry grower near Linden. “The time was right for this to reinvigorate the county’s educational system on the benefits of working in agriculture.”
Vogel said Delta College and Farm Bureau worked hard to develop the internship from the ground up. “We discussed this extensively and in great detail with Delta College officials and educators.” Wineries, processors and a wide variety of farms and crops were reviewed and examined, according to Vogel.
It was important that the trustees were very supportive of agriculture and ag based businesses. “Of course, it being a free program is a huge positive element in its acceptance,” Vogel said.
“It’s all falling into place now, this increased interest in ag education and CTE,” Strecker said. “The growth of the Delta College ag program is the key here.”
A strong advocate for college internships is Nancy Franzia of Bobcat Central who said of the company’s past intern experience, “Yes, we’ve hired part-time interns from the JobRedi program created by Dino Cortopassi. Some of those part-time internship jobs turned into full-time employment with us.”
Blodgett said the internships are a “great opportunity to look at people, to see the college thrive and to see the college trend in a very positive way as it moves forward.”
He also said, “Regarding ag businesses, where there’s a need, this progress can focus on them and leverage opportunities for career paths. The focus is on people being successful because there is a real need for this in the agricultural industry.”
Interested growers, processors and other ag-associated businesses can contact Delta College where help in getting started with interns is available including training for the College’s online job posting platform, Jobspeaker.
Email Workforce Development Center Program Manager Michelle Castanon at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information regarding internship opportunities and training.
More details can be found at www.deltacollege.edu/1000internships.
Farm Bureau and Delta College are excited about this educational partnership for the sake of a strong future workforce and a continuing robust agricultural economy.