Every year, Land O’Lakes hires approximately 150 student interns from more than 100 locations nationwide. Each intern is placed in a role related to solving food challenges and building a more sustainable food web. These jobs typically post in fall of the year prior — in fact, candidates can apply now to summer 2021 internships — and begin once the school year comes to an end.
This year’s pandemic introduced new challenges. In the early months of 2020, tens of millions of Americans were displaced from their jobs. Hiring freezes became the norm. But Land O’Lakes was determined to see to it that interns kept their positions — even if the intern program itself operated a little differently.
“I can hardly articulate what was going through my mind when this all started happening,” said Land O’Lakes Supply Chain Talent Development Director Jeanine Viani. “It has been an incredibly stressful time for all of us.”
About half of her program’s interns were supposed to report to Land O’Lakes’ Arden Hills office in May — which had been closed since March. The other half were slated to work in manufacturing and distribution locations, performing essential functions to ensure safety, quality and efficiency. Even in these locations, where essential services were performed, the interns were bound to miss out on the rich in-person experiences like training and networking opportunities.
Several supply chain managers and college relations staff worked behind the scenes to develop a virtual internship program. They sent corporate office interns what they needed to work remotely; they carefully placed or moved interns working on-site at plants, to ensure they could work within the established safety protocols; and they transitioned training, on-boarding and socializing events online for everyone. By the end of their planning, they didn’t have to rescind a single offer they had made earlier in the year. They did, however, need to change some of the manufacturing locations, and of course, all the Arden Hills internships converted to virtual.
Viani’s colleague, Supply Chain Talent Manager Zach Kelly said, “The fact that Land O’Lakes was able to keep its internships, I think that’s the main win: that Land O’Lakes honored its commitment in an unknown environment.”
For this team, kicking off the internship programs in our new virtual reality was just their first hurdle.
Here are their lessons learned toward making a successful internship program during a pandemic:
Beat quarantine blues with job skills training.
“Our on-site interns had to go into quarantine for two weeks before going to work in the plants,” said Viani. “We had a three days of orientation, but we needed a lot more programming to fill up the time.”
The team recognized the two-week period could be isolating — at the very least, boring — for their interns. So, the team created engaging programming, mostly focused on training, development, and getting to know more about the company’s culture.
“It was important to us to continue to offer interns the option to working as close to 40 hours a week during that time as possible,” said Courtney Igbo-Ogbonna, events and emerging talent specialist at Land O’Lakes. “Plus, we know that our interns are looking to get more out of the program than just a paycheck. They’re interested in growing their skillsets, expanding their networks, and looking for genuine connections across the business.”
Live in the silver lining of virtual networking.
One clever practice the supply chain management team implemented was rotating small groups for regular social check-ins. First, they assigned groups, comprising four interns and a Land O’Lakes full-time associate, based on something they had in common — like a shared alma mater or job function — to help facilitate conversation early on. Halfway through the internship, the groups changed so that interns could build connections with more students in the program.
According to Viani, the virtual meet-ups had unexpected benefits: “For the first time we were able to bring our plant interns and office interns into the exact same networking opportunities. Not just the small groups, but the all the panels and trainings, too, were suddenly on the same playing field. We’ll continue to prioritize that in future years.”
Bring in leaders to express their investment.
“Our interns had to make sacrifices. Even though we could still offer them work, it almost always looked a little different from the job posting they applied to,” said Igbo-Ogbonna. “We give them a lot of credit for joining our team and giving their all. It’s important they hear that gratitude, from our leaders especially.”
In the first couple weeks of the supply chain intern program, the management team coordinated a video call with all of the interns in their program and company leaders, CEO Beth Ford and Chief Supply Chain Officer Yone Dewberry.
“I think Beth and Yone joining the call to answer questions was a highlight for the interns. It helped expose them very early on to our company culture, our mission and what’s important to us,” said Kelly.
Progress makes perfect
More interns’ testimonials came rolling in on social media, under their self-proclaimed #FeedingTheProgress2020 tag.
Intern Annabelle Whatley wrote:
This was not the summer I expected, but I am so grateful for this experience. I enjoyed working with such a wonderful team and learning more about Land O’Lakes as a company. I had the opportunity to attend the Diversity & Inclusion Summit yesterday, and I am so proud to have interned for a company that has taken action and done so much for their employees, owners,and the greater community.
And intern Morgan Callin added:
I am so thankful that they opted to keep their intern programming during these crazy times. I was able to grow so much both personally and professionally through the work on my sustainability-based project of reducing and utilizing bulk waste at the Fort Worth, Texas, Purina plant, shadowing and working with operators on site (and learning to drive a fork lift!), and engaging in virtual communication with employees in a variety of roles within the company. A huge thank you to everyone at Land O' Lakes that helped make this experience so great! #FeedingtheProgress2020 #LOLintern
The supply chain managers are grateful for their interns’ dedication and looking forward to the rising workforce in supply chain. Both are seeing more young people interested in supply chain.
“Supply chain is front and center in the media as part of a national conversation around safe, quality food distribution. For me, I joined because I wanted to make stuff — to get hands on with real-world problems. Now, I think more students are recognizing that if you want a job that solves problems, supply chain is a great place to be,” said Viani. “Just like the logistical work that we do, the internship really showcased how we’re always working to make connections, no matter what challenges come.”