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Regions, states utilize tech internships to build 21st century workforce

March 07, 2019
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

While the U.S. economy hovers near full employment, employers contend that the skills gap still persists and it is impacting their ability grow. To address the long-term issue of the skills gap, several states and regions have turned to S&T internships to help students develop the necessary technical skills to address the needs of industry. The development of an S&T internship program can serve as a potentially highly effective strategy for developing and retaining talent workers while also helping integrate underserved communities into the 21st century workforce. This article highlights several examples from across the country.

Launched in fall 2018, the Maryland Technology Internship Program (MTIP) highlights the  two-fold intent of S&T internships: First, it helps small businesses and other key regional employers to fill technical and/or creative roles that they may struggle to fill in the current job market. Second, by increasing the number of paid internships in the region, the goal is to help the state retain top talent by connecting workers at the start of their career with employers looking to grow their businesses.

In Massachusetts, two S&T focused internships — the MassTech Intern Partnership (MTIP) program and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Internship Challenge – highlight the effectiveness of these programs in building connections between students and industry. The MassTech Intern Partnership (MTIP)  provides stipends to digital technology companies that are starting and scaling-up across Massachusetts to directly support internships for Massachusetts college and graduate students. Based upon survey results of participating companies and students, the program has been a resounding success for the state with:

  • Approximately 97 percent of companies rating the experience as good or excellent;
  • Approximately 92 percent of students rated their experience as successful in providing them valuable skills;
  • Approximately 89 percent of companies would recommend that other companies sponsor an intern through the MTIP program; and,
  • Approximately 88 percent of interns also would recommend to their peers to intern at a startup.

Each year, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Internship Challenge creates over 500 new internship opportunities for college students and recent graduates by enabling small companies to hire paid interns. The intent of the program is to expand the pool of prospective employees who have practical experience, increase opportunities for mentoring, and enable more students from across the commonwealth to explore careers in the life sciences industry. Since its launch in 2009, MLSC has supported over 3,850 internships at more than 750 companies throughout Massachusetts. Both students and companies report being highly satisfied by the experience. Students value the experience/knowledge they gained during the internship while businesses report being satisfied with the quality of the interns and their ability to fill important roles in the organization.

The 2018 results of the Michigan Corporate Relations Network’s Small Company Internship Award program (SCIA) may indicate that S&T internships are an effective strategy in connecting interns with small businesses looking to fill long-term positions. In 2018, 99 companies across the state of Michigan hired 122 interns through the SCIA program. More than half of the SCIA interns continued on with the hiring company in some capacity after the 12-week program ended.

In addition to being a potentially effective retention strategy, some regions are using S&T internships as a potential attraction strategy by attracting students from across their respective states and even across the country. In Indianapolis, a partnership between TechPoint and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) operates Xtern – a program that places rising seniors from across the state and the country into well-paying summer internships at Indianapolis-based tech companies.

The intent of Xtern program is to attract talented students from across the country to the city with the hope that their internship experiences and personal/professional connections will have them return to the city after graduation. Building off the Xtern program, TechPoint and IUPUI announced the creation of Xtern Semester — an economic development initiative that bundles summer internships at Indianapolis companies with senior-year part-time jobs at those same companies. While open to all Xtern students, the program specifically targets students at local universities.

In Northeast Ohio, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) is working to create pathways to well-paying jobs through internships in manufacturing for individuals from underserved communities while also addressing the region’s shortage of skilled workers. In 2017, MAGNET launched the Early College Early Career (ECEC) program. The pilot program currently serves a total of 85 students in 11th and 12th grade at multiple schools across Northeast Ohio. All students participating in the program live in communities with concentrated poverty. While some students have struggled with issues such as attendance, both students and employees report being hopeful that the program will help underserved individuals land long-term employment at local manufacturing firms.