Team Building: The Value in Internship Programs - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: The Value in Internship Programs

Photo: Mullin

With the competitive labor market, it can be a challenge to find the necessary team members to grow your lawn and landscape company. One recruiting tool is offering an internship to students that allows them to develop important skills while promoting long-term career growth in the industry.

Many of the landscape companies that offer an internship program started it in an attempt to discover new talent. Nubia Gutierrez, human resources manager for Mullin based in St. Rose, Louisiana, says they started their program four years ago to give students an opportunity to see career opportunities in the landscape industry.

Grunder Landscaping Company, based in Miamisburg, Ohio, started their internship program in 2017.

“I think it’s a great way for potential team members to interview the company and for us to actually interview them,” says Seth Pflum, COO of Grunder. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone involved to learn a little bit more about each other.”

Bill Petry, a sales consultant for Milosi, based in Hendersonville, Tennessee, says they really focused on building the program in 2018 after attending their first NCLC (National Collegiate Landscape Competition). Petry says they had secured a few interns for 2020, but COVID put the program on hold. He says they hit the ground running in 2021.

“We recognized that the internship program would help us live out our core purpose ‘Let’s Grow Beautiful Together’ by bringing in students and giving them real-life exposure to the green industry,” Petry says.

He says the interns also offer support for their teams in their respective departments: design, construction and maintenance.

Darby Gilbert, marketing and recruiting manager for Landscape Workshop, based in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, says they’ve hosted interns for close to 10 years, but their internship program is only a few years old.

“Our internship program is an investment, as we hope that by offering it, we are helping to develop future leaders of our company and the green industry as a whole,” Gilbert says. “We began offering our internship so that we could reap the benefits of having knowledgeable students join us to learn the business in hopes of them returning to us after graduation as a leader of the company.” 

Why Offer an Internship Program?

Photo: Milosi

Gutierrez says some of the main benefits of offering the program are finding future team members and increasing their visibility as a company. She says when they become well-known in a school both students and teachers become aware of who they are looking for.

She says the interns can also help with productivity and can provide fresh ideas. Pflum says even though they haven’t converted any of their interns to full-time employees, having the program shows they are serious and progressive as a company.

“It’s beneficial externally to have it to demonstrate that we are investing in the industry, that we’re trying to be approachable in the industry for internships or employment,” Pflum says. “Internally, it gives us something to rally around, to be able to teach what we’ve learned and learn about the different programs or different areas of the country.”  

Petry says their interns give them inspiration.

“One benefit is it is an extended interview for potential new team members,” Petry says. “A company can build their future bench. Interns produce work that helps the company. Another benefit is helping bring in and introduce young people to a huge industry that can benefit them in their careers. We also believe wholeheartedly that having a great internship program can help the future of our entire industry.”

Gilbert says having an internship program allows them to develop future leaders in the green industry, build a pipeline of dedicated professionals, and share knowledge with those passionate about landscaping.

What Do the Interns Do?

What an intern will do during their time with a landscape company depends on the specific program. Pflum says their interns work in the field on design/build and maintenance teams. They also shadow operations managers and account managers.

“We try to give them as much of a mix of the day-to-day operations of a design/build maintenance firm,” Pflum says.

Photo: Milosi

Petry says when their interns have accepted their offer, they send out a survey to determine their interests.

“Each internship is custom-designed to provide the most value for both the intern and Milosi,” Petry says. “We understand that to build a sustainable internship program it must be centered around a win/win.”

An intern with Milosi might end up working on a construction or maintenance crew, working alongside an irrigation technician or shadowing a designer or client relationship manager. At Mullin, it depends on the specific intern. Gutierrez says they’ve had some interns that just focused on design work and others have started out in the field and moved into management, then construction and then sales and design.

“They’re able to go into any sort of internship area that they want to go into with us,” Gutierrez says. “Most recently we added the business administration side so if there’s somebody that’s majoring in business administration, they can come to do an internship with us.”

Landscape Workshop interns rotate throughout the different departments in the company including maintenance, enhancements, irrigation, floriculture, construction, and design-build.

How Many Interns Do You Bring On?

Depending on the company and their program, the number of interns they bring in varies. Milosi likes to bring on two interns per quarter, while Grunder’s maximum is four in a season.

“Any more than four it’s going to be difficult for us to provide them the experience that we want to provide them is what we determined,” Pflum says.

Photo: Mullin

Mullin tries to bring in one intern per department and had five interns this year.

“I think devoting our attention to one intern at a time is really important and having that focus especially with their mentors,” Gutierrez says. “We want them to have that one-on-one conversation and just have their focus with them.”

Landscape Workshop brings in 10 to 15 interns each season, but Gilbert says they’re always looking for top talent to expand their internship program.

All four companies provide paid internships for their programs. Pflum says the pay is based on the intern’s experience, as those who have had other internships in the past get paid more than the minimum rate.

He says it’s important to be realistic with what you’re going to offer as far as logistics costs. In Grunder’s case, they provide inbound and outbound travel stipends for their interns. They don’t provide housing stipends, but they do give their interns housing suggestions.

Gutierrez says normally their interns have their own transportation and housing, but they are helping their first out-of-state intern with housing. Petry says they provide their interns with uniforms at no cost and if housing is required, they also provide the interns a stipend.

If you’d like more information on starting your own internship program, check out NALP’s internship program guide.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.