With Safety Measures in Place, OSI Keeps Its 2020 Commitment to Interns and Trainees
August 21, 2020
In a normal year, the early spring is a time when OSI and other U.S.-based companies finalize plans for summer internships. Internship coordinators select applicants and make happy calls to college students and recent graduates, inviting them to take one of the first, ideally formative, steps in their early careers. This year, though, the spring was marked by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As one-by-one, companies canceled their internship programs, sometimes rescinding offers they'd already made to students, OSI leadership carefully considered the best way forward and decided to take the highest health and safety precautions to keep its commitment to the next generation of industry leaders.
"The best calls I made were in the end of April and beginning of May when I got to tell students and recent graduates, 'OSI is moving ahead with the Intern program. Yes, you can come," said Julie Yeary, OSI's Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition.
THE MUTUAL BENEFITS OF OSI'S INTERNSHIP AND RMT PROGRAMS
Both the summer internship and Rotational Management Training (RMT) programs are as valuable to OSI as they are to participants, who can gain real-world experience and learn more about career paths in food processing and manufacturing.
Both programs are key talent pipelines for OSI and important for its future growth. Typically, 18 to 20 interns with backgrounds in everything from food science and agricultural engineering, to supply chain and operations management, spend an intensive summer at either OSI's Research and Development Center, corporate headquarters or an OSI plant, depending on their areas of interest. Many interns wind up returning to OSI to join its 18-month RMT program, which allows them to rotate through various parts of the business: Operations, Supply Chain, Quality and this year for the first time, Sustainability.
"Both programs offer students such positive experiences, particularly for people who may not be aware of all the roles and career paths available in food processing and manufacturing," Yeary said. "They learn about all the work that goes on behind the scenes in terms of processing and commercialization, Quality Assurance, engineering, research and development, continuous process improvement and customer relations."
The RMT program is often the gateway to a career at OSI."In the end, we want them to choose OSI," Yeary said. “OSI’s culture of entrepreneurship and working beyond defined areas, like a family culture business would, makes it a great place for young talent to grow their careers.”
PRIORITIZATION PARTICIPANTS' HEALTH AND SAFETY
In order to keep the talent pipeline and commitment to students and recent graduates intact — while also prioritizing their health and safety — OSI made a number of modifications to both programs this year.
First, the internship start date was pushed from late May to June 1. The in-person "Welcome Day" at corporate headquarters was also canceled to avoid the risk of travel and group interactions.
The rest of the internship and RMT programs proceeded as planned, though interns and trainees were required to adhere to the same health and safety protocols all OSI employees now follow: Those working in plants were each given their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while everyone had to adhere to social distancing rules and other safety measures, including daily temperature checks.
For Elisa Kim, a former OSI intern and current RMT trainee, the safety measures were well worth the experience of applying and developing her skills at OSI.
"Unfortunately, [the pandemic put] many aspects of our lives on hold: the college experience and graduation, many branches of my social life, a sense of security," said Kim, who graduated in May from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Agricultural/Biological Engineering. "I was very anxious that my future would be put on hold also. But it was a huge relief to hear that the program with OSI was still ongoing. The experience has been surreal, and I am grateful every day for still being able to advance my career."
For her internship last summer, Kim worked in Operations at OSI's Chicago-Racine facility, where she focused on process improvement and wound up working with a team to develop new procedures and designs to load meat onto racks for processing.
"The interns and I were entrusted with many responsibilities, and I felt my work was of great value to the company," she said. "The workplace environment at Racine was so warm and welcoming that I didn’t mind my 6 a.m. start (too much)."
The experience last summer motivated her to apply for OSI's RMT program which she began in June as the company's inaugural Sustainability trainee — a rotation position she has been completing remotely.
"My time here has been eye opening," she said, noting her surprise at the scope of sustainability, which encompasses far more than simply environmental issues. Besides working to more accurately track the carbon footprint at U.S. facilities, she has spent the summer working with the Culinary Team to implement a composting system at OSI's corporate headquarters and has helped gather data on everything from animal welfare indicators to social responsibility initiatives for a forthcoming sustainability report.
SAFELY MAINTAINING AN IMPORTANT TRADITION
While Kim will continue on with OSI for another year, interns left their summer positions at the end of August with an important in-person sendoff. Each summer, interns mark the end of their internships — and potentially the beginning of their careers — at OSI by giving a presentation to OSI leadership. This year, the company managed to keep the tradition alive, with added safety precautions, including a staggered schedule and smaller, more socially-distanced audience than usual.
"It's a time for interns to celebrate their accomplishments and something they look forward to at the end of each summer," Yeary said. For OSI, she added, "It was important for us to give them that closure and learn from what the next generation of our workforce has to teach us."