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Writing an Accurate Apprenticeship Description & Promoting Your Opportunity

By   /  June 8, 2020  /  No Comments

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Last week, we talked about the questions to ask yourself when thinking about taking on an apprentice or intern. Now, let’s look at how to be clear about what kind of opportunity you have to offer, and the kind of person you’d like to work with.

Describe your opportunity

Apprenticeships come in all shapes, sizes, and intensities, and you want to make sure that candidates have a good understanding of what they’re applying for. Your description should be both appealing and realistic about the ups and downs of ranching and farming.

Writing out a description that covers the following topics is a good way to clarify things for yourself and for your future apprentice:

Your Operation
• What do you produce?
• Where are you located? Describe your region and ecosystem.
• When did you start your ranch, farm, or operation, and how has it evolved over time?
• What are your main areas of focus and agricultural expertise?
• How does your operation fit into local and regional communities?
• Who is your customer base?

Your Philosophy, Mission, and Values
Making your priorities clear from the start will help ensure that you find an apprentice who is willing to work within the environment, expectations, and priorities that you’ve defined.
• How would you describe your land management and/or animal management style?
• What are your top three to five values at your operation?
• How do you take ecological considerations into account in your operational structure and decision making?

Who Are You?
This is your opportunity to tell future applicants who you are, what you believe, and why you do what you do. You can share your background and family, where you came from, and what got you into agriculture.

The quality of the relationship between the mentor and apprentice can make or break the experience, and putting some careful thought into how you present yourself can make a huge difference in finding a good match for your operation.

2020 San Juan Ranch apprentice, Noelle McDonough works the gate while mentor, George Whitten gives direction.

Typical Weekly Schedule and Monthly Calendar:
• How many days/hours per week is the position?
• How many days will the apprentice have off?

Be realistic about the demands of the position and the types of activities that the apprentice should expect. Create a month-by-month calendar of activities for the year. Include important dates, seasonal priorities, and anticipated work activities. Laying all of this information out ahead of time will help set expectations for applicants, and will also serve you and the apprentice as a general guide during the season.

Basic Requirements:
Don’t assume that everyone who applies will understand that agriculture requires a person to work outside in all weather conditions. Make a list of the basic physical requirements of the position. Do they need to know how to back up a trailer? Lift 50 pounds?

Compensation:
Be clear and upfront about what you have to offer. Wages, housing, food, and possibly other benefits (health insurance, paid time off, off-site educational opportunities) can all be part of the package. If you’re offering housing, be sure to describe what the housing is, whether it is shared or private, and what the cell phone service and internet access situation is.

What information should you ask for in an application?

For most jobs, a resume and cover letter are the two standard pieces that applicants are asked to submit. For apprenticeship and internship positions, we strongly recommend also including some supplemental questions for applicants to respond to as well. This will help ensure that your applicants are serious about the position, and will help you learn more about their motivations for applying.

When thinking about application questions to ask, consider what’s most important to you. Experience? Enthusiasm? Prior knowledge?

You may want to include a few simple yes/no questions if there are specific skills or experience that you want to make sure applicants have (Can you drive manual transmission? Backup a trailer? Lift 50 pounds?).

For broader categories of skills, many applicants overstate their abilities (or don’t yet have the experience to know how much they don’t know!), so asking open ended questions will paint a better picture. Rather than asking “Do you have prior experience working with livestock?” ask them to “Tell us about any prior experience you have working with livestock.”

Consider also asking questions about their motivation. Why do they want to do an apprenticeship, and why specifically with you? This question can tell you a lot about their motivation, what stage of their career they’re in, and if they really think that an apprenticeship with you will be a good fit. Ask what really motivates them, and how do they keep going when things are monotonous or tiring. This gives you a chance to get to know them a bit, and will make the decision making process easier when it’s time to select candidates for an interview.

2020 Indreland Ranch apprentice Tyler Vandermark at a low-stress stockmanship clinic. Photo by Alexis Bonogofsky

Promoting your opportunity

Now that you have an idea of what your opportunity is and who you’re looking for, where should you promote it in order to get the word out?

The New Agrarian program sends out a monthly newsletter, and we’re always looking to share internship, job, and other apprenticeship opportunities. Contact us newagrarian@quiviracoalition.org to get your opportunity included in our next newsletter.

Do you already use social media like Facebook or Instagram? If so, post there, and also share your opportunity with other farms, ranches, and apprenticeship programs. If you don’t have your own accounts, ask nearby farms, ranches, or apprenticeship programs to share your opportunity for you. Many have connections to folks who may be looking for opportunities. Are there granges, farm unions, farmers markets, or young farmers coalitions in your area that can help you get the word out? Word of mouth and a network of like minded organizations can help circulate your opportunity to the right people.

Interested in learning more? Join us for a free training!

Julie Sullivan and George Whitten own and operate San Juan Ranch, a certified organic, grass-fed beef ranch located in the San Luis Valley near Saguache, Colorado. These articles are based on mentor training series she leads

This summer Quivira Coalition is offering free “Intro to Mentoring” workshops. These calls will be led by Julie Sullivan, one of the founding mentors of the Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian apprenticeship program. Julie and her husband George Whitten run San Juan Land & Livestock and have been mentoring beginning ranchers on their operation in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for nearly 20 years.

Held on June 15th (12-1:30pm MDT) or July 22nd (6:30-8:00pm MDT), the calls will provide an overview of the New Agrarian program and an opportunity to talk about what it means to become a mentor. Click here for more information and to register.

Although it may seem early to prepare for hiring an apprentice in 2021, now is exactly the right time to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases and are prepared to find someone who is a good fit for your operation. We look forward to helping you get started!

 

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