Internships are Critical to the Education to Employment Transition

boston1This column by Janet Boston, executive director of Indiana INTERNnet, first appeared in Inside INdiana Business

“The No. 1 priority for Indiana must be a re-evaluation and reinvestment in our people, their knowledge and skills.”

This statement from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s June 2015 Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, along with the data, reinforces the urgency of the state’s workforce development goals. According to the Report Card, while there have been gains over the past several years, there are specific areas of concern in terms of Indiana’s talent pipeline:

  • Postsecondary attainment continues to lag with national ranks of 45th in associate degrees and 42nd in bachelor degrees
  • Nearly 12% of Indiana’s population has less than a high school diploma
  • Only 3.36% of Hoosier workers are employed in STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations, confirming the qualitative and anecdotal insights of business leaders who are suffering through a “skills gap”

State workforce development initiatives focusing on college completion, career pathways and skills development are critical. The Indiana Career Council, led by Governor Mike Pence and Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann, released its strategic plan in 2014 to guide state workforce development efforts. The goal is that at least 60% of Indiana’s workforce will have post-secondary skills and credentials by 2025.

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers presented a plan to achieve the goal at the E2E Convergence in June, hosted by Indiana University in partnership with TechPoint and with support from the Lilly Endowment. To reach 60%, Lubbers told the group of state leaders and stakeholders that the full ecosystem of partners will need to work together. It will take statewide organizations convening the right people to identify problems and solutions. It will take industry sectors defining career pathways and skills demands. It will take regional groups implementing strategies tailored to their specific needs. Finally, it will take local and school partnerships to get students on the track to college and career success.

Objective 4 of the Indiana Career Council’s strategic plan specifically calls for the elevation of the importance of work-and-learn models. State leadership has also set the goal of increasing the number of internships available to Hoosiers by 10,000.

Work-and-learn opportunities serve as significant stepping stones in career paths and allow students to supplement their classroom knowledge with real-world work experience. Indiana INTERNnet is the catalyst for expanding the creation and use of experiential learning as a key strategy in retaining Indiana’s top talent. We are helping the state achieve the goal of 10,000 internships by hosting a web site that matches interns with Indiana employers and offering resources and personal assistance to employers who are building or strengthening their internship programs.

Indiana INTERNnet also works with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education on the Employment Aid Readiness Network (EARN) Indiana program. Employers with an approved internship may receive state matching funds by hiring students, eligible to receive state financial aid, for resume-building, experiential, paid opportunities. Internships are part of the solution for increasing Indiana’s ranks in these important workforce strength indicators and developing the talent demanded by local employers.

A timely industry example: by 2018 Indiana’s growing economy will have demand for 123,000 STEM-related jobs. Yet questions linger as to whether the state can produce enough qualified workers to fill these positions. As a result, an urgent need exists to bridge the gap between higher education experiences and employment opportunities for Indiana to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Again, internships are a part of the equation.

“What’s great about an internship in the technology industry specifically is a student can develop their skills immensely over just a 12-week period from theories learned in school to application of those in a real-world job setting,” indicates Brittney Baxter, manager of Global Student Programs with Interactive Intelligence. “We see interns who grow so much from hands-on experience. It’s truly invaluable.”

Career-based experience is valued across all industries. Not only are these experiences a necessary component of each individual’s career pathway, but a more skilled workforce is critical for the success of Indiana.

To register for our free service, visit www.IndianaINTERN.net, or call (317) 264-6862 to speak with our staff about your internship program. We are now accepting nominations for the IMPACT Awards in the categories of Intern of the Year, Employer of the Year and Career Development Professional of the Year. Share your internship success story online.

INTERNnet Partnership with enFocus in Northern Indiana to Battle Brain Drain

enfcouseThis column originally appeared in the Inside INdiana Business BigWigs & New Gigs newsletter.

Indiana INTERNnet (IIN) is forging partnerships with regional groups that share equal tenacity for increasing talent retention in the state. Our newest partner, enFocus, is already making a difference in South Bend.

enFocus is a “talent incubator and social innovation engine” whose approach is to cultivate what’s in its own backyard.

Its fellowship program encourages recent graduates from the area to stay and help develop St. Joseph County by giving them the resources to solve real community problems. In addition, a partnership with the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce is creating more internships in the area than ever before.

IIN has teamed up with enFocus to pilot a strategic feedback mechanism for experiential learning program development, expansion and improvement in St. Joseph County, with the goal of expanding it statewide. The comprehensive survey will measure internship success and the impact on talent retention.

Kathleen Ryan, a first-year fellow at enFocus and project lead on the survey pilot, credits an internship as the key to discovering what she truly wanted out of her career.

“It is because of an internship with a community health outreach organization during my senior year of college that I pursued an enFocus internship,” she explains . “At that time, I fully intended to continue on to medical school post-graduation. Through this experiential learning experience, however, I found that I was more drawn to community development.”

This type of career exploration is the cornerstone of enFocus’ mission in St. Joseph County and IIN’s mission statewide. enFocus works to curb the area’s brain drain with a two-pronged system: consulting with local organizations and offering time and resources to its fellows, who work to find solutions for regional industries. Following the program, enFocus works to place fellows in jobs in the area.

Since its inception in 2012, enFocus and its fellows facilitated regional projects like SB150, South Bend’s 150th birthday celebration, and the Regional Cities Initiative.

enFocus also partners with the St. Joseph County Chamber and its internship program, InternSJC.

“Through InternSJC we offer consultative services to local companies, working with them to make internships more valuable, efficient and exciting for company staff and students seeking employment in the area post-graduation,” Ryan describes. “Also through InternSJC, we help facilitate a summer community engagement program for interns in the area, seeking to improve the student experience and perception of our region’s opportunities through social programming, networking events and community service opportunities.”

All of the organization’s facets come together for a common goal: to make St. Joseph County a better place to work and live.

“We expose students and graduates to real-life issues felt by our regional partners and challenge them to alleviate those pain points,” Ryan emphasizes. “This enables them to develop professionally and gain experience while providing invaluable service to the community.

“We realize that Michiana is not the only region in Indiana that could rally around talent and youthful leadership to grow. We want to expand our model across the state to make Indiana an even more preferable place to start a career, business or family.”

IIN and local economic and community development groups are making strides in other regions as well.

For nearly 10 years, IIN has worked with the Northeast Indiana Graduate Retention Program (GRP, now a part of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.). The Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Fellows Program is a 12-month experience that connects high potential college students with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. investors who have a regular need for new talent. The program utilizes dedicated summer internship experiences as admission into the fellowship.

In Northwest Indiana, colleges and universities are joining forces to promote their students under the umbrella of Ready Northwest Indiana, an economic development and education initiative. Ancilla College, Calumet College, Valparaiso University, St. Joseph’s College and the Center of Workforce Innovations, Inc. are teaming with IIN to meet the needs of employers through a common platform to access students prepared for internships.

We look forward to the difference these efforts will make in St. Joseph County and statewide.

To register for our free service, visit www.IndianaINTERN.net, or call (317) 264-6862 to speak with our staff about your internship program.

Janet Boston is executive director of Indiana INTERNnet — an affiliate program of the Indiana Chamber.