An open-air classroom educates Nebraska students on the fine points of feedyard management, and provides Husker State feedyards with a better-prepared supply of prospective employees.

The age-old employment dilemma: Employers want real-life experience. But, how does a prospective employee get that experience without a job? Well, a University of Nebraska program is helping provide feedyard employee prospects with just that.

When Terry Klopfenstein, University of Nebraska animal science professor, first started teaching in the late 1960s, he started helping students get summer internships. This activity has since grown into a course (Animal Science Internship - Beef Feedlot Management) where students spend nearly a full semester working in a feedyard.

"In the mid- to late-'80s, we were getting a lot of calls from owners and managers of feedlots needing good people in feedyard management," Klopfenstein says. "I felt one of the most important things I could do was develop a program where I could actually train people to be feedlot managers."

Not For All Students "We're not trying to meet the needs of a lot of students. We want only those who desire to be in this program," he says. "We expect them to have the background that a bachelor's degree implies."

Klopfenstein says most of the participating students have completed their undergraduate program when they enter the course. But, there are a few who may be short a few hours and use the internship to complete graduation requirements.

"The coursework for this program isn't like normal coursework," Klopfenstein says. "When you've got five or six students in a class, you don't lecture; you have discussions. We try to review some of the material they may have forgotten. We conduct projects where students make presentations and lead discussion. The technique is an active one.

"Students are here because they want to learn," he adds. "They're here for eight weeks and then out working in their internships."

Typically, four to six students are enrolled in the program, according to Klopfenstein. There were 10 students last year and it looks about the same for this year. In total, 40 students have gone through the program and 20 feedyards have participated. With normal turnover, he says, there are about five manager openings each year in Nebraska.

Range Of Jobs The students work at participating feedyards and are paid the going rate for starting labor. Generally, they're learning every aspect of the feedyard, including maintenance, truck driving and mill management. Some students are put on special projects or move from one job to the other.

"The students are well accepted by the feedlots," Klopfenstein says. "The yard gets a good employee and, more importantly, a potentially permanent employee who can move into management. I think a lot of managers are stimulated by the students asking questions and challenging procedures. And, nine times out of 10, the student is a better-than-average employee."

Klopfenstein says some feedyard managers view the internship as a great opportunity, others perhaps see it as labor. He tries to fit students to each location.

"The value of the internship is that the student and the feedyard are involved," Klopfenstein says. "Yet, there's no long-term commitment if the student and the feedyard discover they're not perfect matches."

It Pays Off Final grades are determined by Klopfenstein using coursework evaluation and input from feedyard managers. But students get two things from an internship, Klopfenstein says.

"They usually have a job opportunity if they've done well. The downside is that some feedyards can't hire them right away. And secondly, students have developed good work references from the feedyard and from me," he says.

Feedyard managers' input is important. Klopfenstein says he's never talked with a manager who didn't say accounting was one of the most important courses students can take. A strong dose of marketing and personnel management doesn't hurt either.

"It's a lot of work, but rewarding to the students, especially when they're recognized as good employees by the feedyards," Klopfenstein says. "One student was at a feedyard only two weeks when management turned over the feedyard to him for a week. It's opportunities like these that make it worthwhile."