Bridging the Workforce Gap: A Partnership Between Academia and Horticulture Industries

harvesting tomatoes

The Department of Horticultural Science at North State University has been working hard to increase our enrollments of students seeking a degree in horticultural science. We have had some good success enrollments are up! Many people and programs have worked together toward this common goal: 

  • Horticultural Science Summer Institute (Liz Driscoll, Extension 4-H)
  • ACT Supplemental Preparation in Rural Education (ASPIRE) pre-college program (Extension agents and high school teachers)
  • Horticulture Teacher Training and Grow Academy (Various Faculty)
  • Nominate a Student, Student Transition Enrollment Advising and Mentoring (STEAM), and PackTrac (Academic Programs, CALS)

Student internship, research or teaching experiences

A graduation requirement for all these students is to have either an internship or research or teaching experience. These out-of-the-classroom learning experiences are more than just enriching – they are critical in developing a student’s preparedness for the workforce. Students often report that they are the most valuable experiences they have while pursuing their degree1.

Where we need industry help

Our students have wide-ranging interests and hopes for horticultural careers. We need a wide range of opportunities for them. We are developing a database of these opportunities so that student experience providers can connect. The process is easy:

  1. Enroll in the database using this link: https://go.ncsu.edu/careerexploration
  2. Once approved, fill out an experience description. Tell the students a little about your company and the range of experiences that you can provide them. This position description will remain active in the database until you ask to have it removed.
  3. Students will search the database and reach out to companies with positions that are of interest to them. If you and the student are in agreement this opportunity is a good match, the student applies to your position directly through your company.
  4. Once hired, the student and the employer complete a growth plan that defines the learning opportunities and a student-led project. The student-led project should benefit both the student and the company.
  5. While employed, the student is protected under the university’s liability insurance so there is no risk for you as the employer. 

Create an Exloration

Why should you host a student intern?

Because they can add new energy to your company, can contribute to meaningful projects, or may become a future employee. To get the most of a student, you need to provide a meaningful experience2. As a company, think about the projects and opportunities that are either new or ongoing in your company and how a student can participate. These projects and opportunities do not have to be large and grandiose – just beneficial for both the company and the student. Examples of such projects are: 

  • Design and construction of an irrigation system
  • Design and begin the implementation of a scouting program
  • Implementation of the use of a webpage or social media for marketing
  • Design and install a garden in a landscape
  • Create customer education information

Workforce Preparedness

Businesses should also think carefully about what skills they need a student to have before they begin work and what they are able to teach them. For example, do you need a student to be experienced in:

  • Excel, Outlook, AutoCad, etc.
  • Truck, trailer, fork-lift operation
  • Communicating tasks and reasons for operations
  • Spanish

Having a student intern is a win-win experience!

You will be helping shape a student’s career in horticulture. In return, you will get a boost of energy in your business. The Department of Horticultural Science is here to help you create your internship program and connect you to students. 

Please contact, Helen Kraus, at Helen_Kraus@ncsu.edu if you have any questions.


1Citation for the educational value of an internship.

2Finding the Right Intern. Mason Day. GrowerTalks p. 26 – 28. May 2019.