As an ever-changing workforce continues to evolve, many companies have identified future gaps in leadership roles. While companies adapt to growing demands, unique training opportunities, like rotational programs, hope to fill those vacancies.
Rotational programs have been around for several years but have recently grown in popularity, said Sarah Van Vark, career coordinator at the Ivy College of Business. “They’re designed for new graduates to rotate through different departments of a company during a short amount of time,” said Van Vark.
Land O’Lakes is one company that has identified future gaps in supply chain leadership. Beth Ford, Ivy College of Business alumna and the company’s chief operating officer, created their rotational program five years ago to train new graduates within their system and to recruit top talent from universities.
“We estimated we’ll have to fill 130–150 full-time, entry-level positions every year based on retirement, turnover, and company growth,” said Jeanine Viani, director of supply chain talent management and international logistics at Land O’Lakes. “Both the company and employee benefit from the program. We hire the best talent and in return get well-prepared, motivated, and energetic employees.”
New hires within the Land O’Lakes program get leadership training, strong project work, and real-life plant experience. “Hires can rank their choices of where they’d like to be placed in the company and spend a year getting in at the ground level. When they’re out of the program, they’ve seen all the parts of supply chain,” said Viani. “It’s two years with two rotations of on-the-job training.”
The Ivy College of Business is one of six target pools for supply chain recruitment, Viani said. The top talent in the program is a small sought-after group with a higher retention rate than the rest of the company. “People fight to get them on their team,” she said. Several Ivy College of Business alumni are currently in rotational programs at several different companies. They’ve spent the last year working in different locations around the country and shared how their experiences are paying off.
Olivia Reicks, (’17 supply chain management, economics) started her rotational program with Land O’Lakes in June 2017 and spent her first week of training in Nashville, Tennessee. After a week, she moved to the company headquarters in Arden
Hills, Minnesota. A few weeks later, she was in Wisconsin.
“Those summer rotations taught us about the cross collaboration between the different business units and functions,” said Reicks. “Now, with my current year-long rotation with Purina Feed Nutrition in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a deep dive into the manufacturing and warehousing world. While training as a production supervisor, I’ve implemented various projects and processes.”
Reicks’ program lasts two years with an optional six-month international rotation at the end. “I’m thankful to be in a program that allows me to discover my strengths and interests before committing to a full-time position. This program shows Land O’Lakes invests in us as employees, our education, and our career development.”
This isn’t her first experience at Land O’Lakes, as she previously interned with the company, along with several others in her group. Since Land O’Lakes already knows their work ethic and potential, Reicks believes making the long-term investment in them is worthwhile. “Maintaining best talent is one of Land O’Lakes strategic imperatives to keep growing.”
After the program is over, Reicks will meet with her managers to discuss her strengths and the business needs before placement in one of the many different departments where she’s been trained.
While some may see so much traveling as a daunting task, Reicks sees it as gaining new perspectives.
“Land O’Lakes is a manufacturing company,” she said.
“We don’t make a single bag of feed at our corporate office. With boots on the ground, talking with operators, and seeing the feasibility of changes, I’ve learned more than I thought possible. I think rotational programs are crucial for supply chain majors to truly see how everything in a business is connected.”
Daniel Zabler (’17 supply chain management) started his career in a rotational program that took him to Nebraska, Texas, and Utah multiple times in less than a year. Zabler is in the Operations Management Training Program to become a supervisor of yard operations (SYO) for Union Pacific.
After spending the first 5 weeks of his rotational program last summer in Omaha, Nebraska, learning about company culture and history, Zabler spent a week in Houston participating in on-the-job rail yard training with current SYOs. Since then, he’s traveled to Arkansas for conductor training and Salt Lake City for GE locomotive air brakes training. He returned to Texas for train remote control training and has been back to Omaha many times in between.
“We have track in 23 states and no train yard is the same,” Zabler said. “Being able to see how and why some yards do things differently helps new hires become more knowledgeable of the railroad. This has a huge impact on getting promotions later in my career.”
Currently, Zabler is stationed in Houston, Texas, for the next three years, overseeing union employees performing daily operations.
Duties consist of setting trains – sorting them in the computer to print paperwork, deciding where inbound trains will go and where outbound trains will be built, getting the appropriate amount of power to each train, and performing field training exercises.
“There is rarely a day where everything goes to plan,” he said. “Power breaks down, tracks go out of service, or the Federal Railroad Administration takes them out. Fast, effective decision-making plays a huge part in the success of this yard.”
For Zabler, every day is different, there are always new challenges to solve, and he doesn’t have to spend all day behind a desk – a major factor in choosing his career. He likes the flexibility of the program and company where he can choose to do something different while staying with Union Pacific.
“My recommendation to business students is figure out what you love, but also what you don’t like, as it’s just as valuable. Try getting into a rotational program at the company you want because they give you a great opportunity to find something you truly enjoy doing every day.”
Jaslyn Clark (’17 supply chain management) chose a rotational program because she wanted more than the typical corporate desk job. After an internship with Land O’Lakes her senior year, Clark went right into a full-time position as a distribution manager trainee (DMT) with WinField United,
in Eldora, Iowa, a Land O’Lakes company.
“The rotational program is the perfect fit for me,” Clark said. “It’s nice because I’ll be moving directly into a management position, so this next year and a half to two years is like managing one with training wheels on. It gives me the opportunity to explore the role without being completely on my own, while getting to know the company and network with other employees.”
Clark’s program involves working in each area of the company: the distribution center, warehouse/agronomy service center (ASC), transportation, and other departments at the facility.“ The program will range 18–24 months with the goal to train me in everything they do to prepare me to manage an ASC after my program is finished,” she said. “Should I decide the ASC manager is not one I want to pursue, there are other opportunities for me to continue with the company.”
Her favorite part of the program with WinField United is being as hands-on as possible and enjoying new experiences like learning to drive a forklift, participating in HAZWOPER training to learn how to handle chemical spills, and doing ride-along deliveries.
“I would definitely recommend the DMT program and Land O’Lakes as a whole to anyone looking for an internship or a full-time role. The co-op culture of the company is indescribable – you have to experience it to understand, but it’s amazing.”
– Amy Griffith (’17 JLMC),
a freelance writer from