Recruiting's Inside Track


Nicholas Oschman, a junior in engineering at Purdue University, hasn't determined his career goals. But he is confident a summer internship at the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator is pointing him in the right direction. "I wanted to get a feel for what a real electrical engineer does, and I felt like Midwest ISO was the best place to do that," Oschman said.

As it turns out, interns like Oschman, 21, Mooresville, also may be pointing their employers in the right direction. As the baby boom generation begins to retire, companies are ramping up their internship programs as a tool to recruit the next generation of workers and fill critical skill gaps.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that about 43 percent of U.S. workers will be eligible to retire within 10 years. In response, many companies are increasing the number of interns they hire and offering more of those interns full-time positions after graduation.

A survey on internships conducted in 2008 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed a 3.7 percent increase in the number of interns companies expected to hire this year. Companies in the survey also said they extended full-time job offers to 70 percent of their interns, up from 57 percent in 2001.

"It's a way for you to test them and for them to test you without making a huge commitment on either side," said Mark McNulty, president of Indianapolis-based HR Dimensions, a human-resources consultancy.

Carmel-based Midwest ISO, which oversees the electric grid in 15 Midwestern states and Manitoba, Canada, hired 41 interns this summer -- about twice the number it hired in 2005, the first year it had a formal internship program. So far, the company has placed 27 former interns, or about 20 percent, in full-time positions, said Mike Begley, manager of recruitment and work force planning. Thanks to the internship program and a lucrative employee referral program, only about 5 percent of Midwest ISO employees are eligible for retirement in the next five to 10 years, Begley said.

Midwest ISO isn't the only Indiana company using its internship program as a recruitment tool. Job postings on Indiana INTERNnet, a Web site advertising internship opportunities that is operated by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, doubled from 2006 to 2007, said Pam Norman, the program's executive director. "Employers recognize that one of the best ways to address a retiring work force is to 'grow their own' through internship programs," Norman said.

Plugging gaps from retirees

Dow AgroSciences, on Indianapolis' Northwestside, also is using its internship program to address the looming wave of retirements. The research-and- development department for the manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, bioengineered seeds and other products hired 36 interns this summer, and it has spent the past five years strengthening its program.

"The number one purpose of the program is to find future employees," said Beth Blakeslee, senior chemist, who helps oversee the program. "We're looking to hire 100 or 150 people in R&D and to be able to do that, we need to use this internship program."

In addition to preparing for baby boomers' retirements, companies are using internship programs strategically to recruit workers for hard-to-fill technical positions. At Midwest ISO, recruiters struggle to fill specialized positions in the control room, where certification and industry experience are required. To meet the challenge, several former interns have been invited to join the company's Next Steps program, which offers intensive on-the-job training to help workers earn their certifications.

One graduate of the Next Steps program, Nathan Sutake, 31, recently accepted a full-time position as an emergency management systems applications engineer at Midwest ISO. "I was blown away by the things that went on here," he said. "I had no idea how many things went into flipping a switch at my house." As an intern, Sutake, a Purdue graduate and native of Osage, Iowa, developed several tracking and assessment tools the company still uses. Similarly, Oschman and several other interns are spending this summer developing a tool to calculate and display the amount of wind-generated power that is available for distribution.

Giving interns meaningful work does more than just help them learn, Begley said. It also helps the company get real work done.

Another benefit, Dow AgroSciences' Blakeslee said, is that internship programs can generate good word-of-mouth about the company as an employer. "If we give these students a positive experience, they're going to go back and tell other students what a great time they're having not only at Dow AgroSciences but also in Indianapolis," she said.

Internships: Making them Work for you 

Could your company benefit from a new or improved internship program? Local business leaders offered the following tips to help you get started:

  • Get the support of company leadership. Also identify a specific person to be in charge of the program.
  • Give your interns meaningful work. No copying, no filing, no making coffee. "It should be a developmental opportunity and one where they are able to really see what their chosen field is all about," said Mark McNulty, president of HR Dimensions.
  • Provide appropriate compensation. You expect interns to do real work, so compensate them accordingly. The National Association of Colleges and Employers says undergraduate interns earn an average of $16.33 per hour, and master's-level interns can earn about $25 an hour.
  • Incorporate some perks. Midwest ISO offers a housing subsidy, social activities, and "real life" learning sessions on topics such as insurance and investments. Can't afford that? Instead, help interns get connected in the industry by taking them to networking events.

Source: Indianapolis Star

Categories: Workforce Planning; Attract; Recruitment; Career Development

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