December 7, 2009/The Michigan Daily
By Suzanne Jacobs
About half of Michigan college students leave the state once they graduate — a sobering fact that significantly hampers the state’s prospects for future economic and job growth.
But Intern In Michigan, a joint project between the Detroit Regional Chamber and West Michigan Strategic Alliance, is an initiative launched earlier this year that seeks to remedy the state’s brain drain.
Intern In Michigan matches college students with prospective employers through a website with a model similar to an Internet dating service. The program was launched this past April and already has more than 7,000 student and 700 employer profiles, according to Greg Handel, senior director of workforce development for the Detroit Chamber of Commerce.
Britany Affolter-Caine, the director of Intern In Michigan, said just as students leave Michigan because they assume there aren’t jobs in state, employers likewise assume there is no talent in Michigan and look elsewhere.
“So there are jobs. There is talent,” she said. “They’re not connecting.”
Ken Darga, who is a demographer for the state of Michigan, said the state has seen a net loss of college graduates every year since 2005 because of the state's recession.
“If it continues for a long period of time,” Darga said, “that would certainly reduce a state’s potential for future growth.”
Compounding the exodus of college graduates is the sentiment that there are no jobs for students who do want to stay. For one, LSA junior Todd Phillips said he wants to stay in Michigan after he graduates.
“I wouldn’t say there’s nothing here, but the opportunities are much smaller now,” he said.
Robert Nan, a graduate student in the School of Information, is currently searching for a job in IT. He said he would stay in the sate if he can find a job.
“I’m not against staying here and finding a job here,” Nan said, “but … most of the job opportunities come from California.”
The goal of the site is to keep students like Nan and Phillips in the state by offering an advanced matching system that will help both students and employers find what they need.
Student profiles highlight special skills like problem solving and public speaking skills, as well as personal characteristics, like having a “goal-oriented” personality.
Prospective interns can also list their time availabilities, preferred schedules and desired job locations within the state of Michigan. Students can also select their preferred work environment and company size.
The employer profiles address the types of candidates companies are looking for and the specifics of job openings.
A logarithmic matching function then pairs up student and employer profiles using certain key words, like the student’s area of study or the industry the company is in.
Handel said in the future, the matching system will be more advanced and will avoid using stock phrases, like “hard-working.”
The website also offers a number of educational videos for its users. For students, videos include interview and business etiquette tips, while videos for employers include advice on how to decide whether or not to offer interns permanent positions.
The site has promotional videos for cities around Michigan, including Ann Arbor, that highlight the perks of living in Michigan.
Though Affolter-Caine said Intern In Michigan has been successful in its first eight months, the website has run into issues aligning the timing of when students express interest in finding jobs and when companies offer job openings. She said the issue is a result of the misalignment of the academic and fiscal calendars, but said she thinks the issue will smooth itself out over time.
Kerin Borland, the senior associate director of the Career Center at the University, said staff from the Career Center and staff from 15 other public institutions in Michigan consulted with Intern In Michigan in its initial stages and plan to stay involved as the program evolves.
Affolter-Caine said she hopes the project will ultimately become “something that we all feel a part of, that it’s state-wide, that we all go to for our different needs.”