A Triple Winner

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Educational collaborative helps funnel student interns to employers across the New North

Story by Robin Driessen Bruecker

New North employers often need the affordable help and fresh ideas that college students bring. The students need real-world job experience at regional companies to help launch their pending careers. And higher-education institutions need employers who can offer internships to help their new graduates succeed.

So it made sense for two- and four-year campuses to team up to bring students and employers together through one streamlined program. Intern2work is a newly developed program delivered through the 13 higher-education institutions that are part of the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance, or NEW ERA for short – a decade-old collaboration in the region. It’s also funding the program, rendering it free to employers and students.

“The market need for Intern2work.com is based on student, employer and college career advisors research on how to better connect student talent from the region’s higher-education institutions to employers for internship opportunities,” explained Linda Bartelt, executive director of NEW ERA.

Hatching the idea

In May 2011, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Business Success Center surveyed 205 participating students and employers from northeast Wisconsin technical colleges, two-year UW Colleges and four-year universities, according to Bartelt.

The majority favored doing at least one internship prior to graduation, with 79 percent indicating it was “very important/critical.” Two-thirds of the respondents wanted more than one internship. The students also indicated they want to explore certain fields, determine a good fit, gain practical experience for their resume and for skill improvement, support their education with paid internships, and develop a professional network.

On the employer side, the survey found 59 percent of companies participating had employed a student intern during the last 12 months, Bartelt said. Companies felt that student interns can be potential future employees and affordable resources; they also contribute new ideas and technological skills.

“Students and employers alike are increasingly citing internships, part-time work or volunteer experiences as the single most important factor in finding employment upon graduation,” said Bartelt.

“Nationally, over 60 percent of companies consider college student internships as their number-one recruiting strategy. The Intern2work mission is to increase college student internships in support of regional economic growth while retaining the highly skilled, degreed talent in northeast Wisconsin.”

Prior to its launch this year, Intern2work was beta-tested in spring 2012 by a group of employers and five NEW ERA members – UW Fond du Lac, Moraine Park Technical College, UW Oshkosh, UW Fox Valley and Fox Valley Technical College.

“The results of the beta test indicated that employers enthusiastically supported the ease of use, simplicity and flexibility to search a broad range of career interests and experience of college students,” noted Bartelt. Additional input came from an advisory committee consisting of college career advisors and students in addition to employers, who ensured Intern2work’s relevance and efficiency.

Using Intern2Work 

Enrolling is simple. Students go to Intern2work’s internship login page and set up their profile, complete with area of study, skills, career interests, resume, times available for work, references and recommendations. Registered employers log in and conduct a search that links suitable profiles with the internships being offered. Students can also search and apply for posted internships. As with any job, setting up interviews is the next step.

Most internships are paid, Bartelt noted, although non-profits may not have the budget. But they may still provide students with professional-development opportunities such as conferences, and the internship experience itself has value for the student.

Intern2work has its own internship, currently held by UW Oshkosh senior Kenny Miller, who is completing a BBA in Human Resources Management next month. In his role as a program assistant, Miller has helped develop and coordinate the program.

“Intern2work.com is a great tool that helps students like me gain a competitive advantage in the future after we graduate,” said Miller. “It helps get my information out to more employers than I would have ever thought of sending my resume to. At UW Oshkosh, we have an internship requirement in the College of Business; this website creates another avenue for students to get noticed by potential employers.”

UWO Career Services Director Jaime Page-Stadler said Intern2work can be particularly valuable to students attending a two-year campus who may not have as many resources for career development as the four-year institutions.

Through internships, she said, “Students get to ‘sample’ different organizational cultures and environments to see which one they thrive in. Since most majors do not equal specific careers, transferable skills play a big role in driving success. Students are able to ‘test drive’ a position as an intern to see if they would like that organization or type of position in the future.”

Page-Stadler noted numerous benefits for employers offering internships, such as a longer screening process to ensure a good fit between prospective interns and the company in addition to the potential permanent new hires.

The higher-education institutions benefit as well.

“Employers that offer internships are invested in the changing workforce and provide professional development opportunities for students to aid in their success,” explained Page-Stadler. “Organizations that offer internships are more likely to partner with colleges to develop students through their academic preparation.”

A case for employers

As of February, there were more than 300 student profiles and 70 employers registered on Intern2work.com.

“The business and industry list continues to build as we begin to fully market the resource network,” noted Bartelt.

Participating employers have experienced firsthand the efficiency of adding Intern2work to their recruiting kit.

“We draw candidates from career fairs, the applicants we receive from our postings via our applicant system, as well as our targeted efforts where we search campus resume databases for qualified candidates,” said Tom Lyga, manager of campus relations and the intern program at Oshkosh Corp. “Intern2work supports that third practice as a centralized source of candidates. The main benefit for us at Oshkosh Corporation would be an eventual single source of candidates from a cross-section of schools across the area. From an efficiency standpoint, having that single source of candidates to draw from would greatly streamline our sourcing operations.”

Lyga understands the importance of internships for college students, especially in a competitive job market.

“Relevant work experience is very important for students entering the workforce who are competing against other qualified graduates as well as displaced/underemployed workers willing to work at the entry-level positions,” he said. “In addition, as an intern, you have a foot in the door of that organization, giving you an advantage over external candidates.”

Ryan Haase, a senior human resources generalist with Society Insurance in Fond du Lac, provided employer feedback during Intern2work’s infancy and continues to use it for recruiting interns.

I found the resource to be one that could easily be adopted in our intern hiring practices at Society,” said Haase. “The ‘wait and see’ approach to recruiting is of lesser effectiveness in today’s talent acquisition strategy as compared to even five years ago, and building a talent pipeline is of key importance to Society’s success.

“Intern talent is in fairly high demand so we need to be proactive in recruiting which is where Intern2work comes in.”

Robin Bruecker has 17 years experience in magazine and marcom writing. Contact her at robinbrueck@yahoo.com.