Prepping the Next Generation of the Grow West Team
Success in today’s ag retail business depends on the ability to take care of customers with the right products and services with little or no disruption. Maintaining that continuity over time takes the right people.
The Grow West team focuses on cultivating the future leaders of the company with that customer-first continuity goal in mind. In the range of internship opportunities at Grow West, the youngest members of the ag service provider’s workforce can gain valuable experience as they step into key roles in making sure its customers can count on the level of service to which they’ve become accustomed.
“We have young people step in to become sponges and soak up all the knowledge from our more experienced PCAs so they can continue building relationships with growers,” said Walnut Grove-based Grow West PCA Brett Schmitz. “The experience in service and knowledge that our interns get helps them be there for our growers and continue to provide the service they rely on.”
What it takes to be successful as a Grow West intern
Schmitz is one of the Grow West team who represents the company at area university events to connect with prospective interns. But universities are just one source of interns and young workers. That’s why the Grow West internship program is open to a range of students regardless of where they are in their education. While education is important, how a young person contributes to the company’s ethic of strong customer relationships is an even bigger deal to Grow West North Coast PCA Sandy Henson-Valera.
“We tend to have long-standing personal and professional relationships with a lot of our clients. When we see a young professional who wants to get involved in agriculture and find out how to fit into those relationships, that’s a terrific opportunity for both us and our clients. You may start as a Grow West intern and have little or no experience in agriculture, but before you know it, you have started a successful career in agriculture.”
Cole Brown is on that path right now. Starting as a warehouse assistant in 2020, Brown’s done about every warehouse task from “shuffling boxes around” to mixing fertilizer blends and managing their delivery to growers. It started off as a way for the 2020 high school graduate to make ends meet after being laid off from another job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutdowns made college courses difficult, so he took the Grow West warehouse job, worked his way up and after completing the required classes will earn his PCA license this fall.
“He’s old-school and communicates very well with our clients,” Henson-Valera said of Brown, who’s also fluent in Spanish. “He has the kind of skillset and attitude that makes him the kind of young person we want to keep. He’s driven to be successful and wants what’s best for the client.”
What’s unique about the Grow West internship program
PCAs like Schmitz and Henson-Valera look for a few common characteristics when selecting interns to both gain valuable professional experience and contribute to customer operations. They agree there’s no special sauce to generate success as a Grow West intern. It takes both working alone effectively, as well as collaborating with a larger team. Agronomic knowledge is normally learned on the job.
“If you’re eager to learn and excited to contribute to what we do for our clients, I can teach you what a bug is, how many is too many, what it’s supposed to look like and what it is we’re supposed to be doing in each field,” Henson-Valera said. “We all have our own ways of working, but we don’t keep them siloed. We work collectively in sharing solutions. That takes effort, but it helps build interns’ skillsets and still enables us to take care of our clients.”
Students and young people who serve as Grow West interns get a lot of unique experience in return. Schmitz said it’s less about specifically preparing them to work with only Grow West and more about providing a range of experiences while enabling them to contribute real value.
“It’s unique in how they get to see a lot of farms, different crops and styles of farming,” he said. “Our interns can take that experience to any job, whether it’s with Grow West or not. It’s important for us to get our interns in front of customers so they get real-world, farm-level experience.”
Brown approached his early-career work at Grow West with a straightforward approach: Continue to get better and always put the customer’s needs first. It’s helped him step into roles he wouldn’t have thought possible as a high school student just a few years ago.
“When I become a PCA, I am going to continue to work on my ability to communicate with our current customers because I know they’re going to pass their operations on to the next generation at some point, and I want them to continue to work with us at Grow West,” Brown said. “Looking back on all the jobs I’ve gotten to do here, I realize now that it’s all helped me understand the work we all do much better. You have to have respect for everyone involved in this work. Keep working and progressing. Be open to learning new things.”
Contact your local Grow West location to learn more about the company’s internship program and how you or someone you know can participate.