Olivia Pulsinelli | Business Review Western Michigan
Tuesday March 31, 2009, 2:00 PM
A first-of-its-kind initiative matches employers and interns across the state, with a goal of keeping college graduates in Michigan.
InternInMichigan.com, which went live March 2, is an internship portal -- similar to Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com -- where employers can post internship positions and students can post resumes. The Detroit Regional Chamber will run the initiative and fund it through a WIRED grant, a federal economic-development program meant to develop a more highly skilled work force.
"The point of internships is talent retention, to keep our college graduates from leaving the state because they thought there weren't opportunities," said Patti Jones, director of the Detroit Regional Chamber's Regional College Retention Initiative. "But if they had an internship, there's a good chance that the internship could convert to a regular offer upon graduation. So it's a well-used strategy for keeping talent around."
The DRC, knowing that other communities in Michigan were also looking for ways to boost internships, is working with groups to make this a statewide initiative. The West Michigan Strategic Alliance in Grand Rapids is one of its partners.
Cindy Brown, Internship Initiative project manager at the WMSA, said that in addition to the Web site, the broader Intern in Michigan initiative helps to educate employers about the creation of internships through toolkits and educational forums.
"It kind of cuts down on them having to reinvent the wheel," Brown said. "There's some good templates and resources in there for them."
There is also a lifestyle component of the Web site, which includes city guides for many communities across the state. Jones said these will not only help familiarize students with cities they could potentially be working in, but also provide a resource for employers who are trying to sell the community to prospective interns.
Jones adds that the initiative will work with all institutions of higher education across Michigan so they can help get the word out to students. When jobs are hard to get, she said, students might be more likely to use a site like InternInMichigan.com.
"But there's a little part of me that says we don't need to talk about how bad the economy is," Jones said. "Interns are a good idea in a good economy; they're a good idea in a bad economy."
Even in bad times, employers need to be concerned about their talent pipelines, and many companies made the mistake of cutting internships during the recession in the 1980s, she said. As the economy picked up, those companies didn't have access to incoming talent.
"If you stop all of your planning, when things get better, you're not going to be in the position to compete anymore," she said.
Brown has noticed, however, that many companies and employers are continuing their internship programs.
Lynn Kelly-Albertson, executive director of Western Michigan University's Career and Student Employment Services, also expects some companies might be looking for a student intern because employers "don't have the ability to look far down the line." Companies might not be in the position to add additional employees, but they still have work to get done now.
"In fearful times -- or unknown times, uncertain times -- we get very short-term focused," Kelly-Albertson said.
Students concerned about graduating in today's economy are more likely to be thinking about surviving in the short term rather than the long term, as well. Kelly-Albertson suggests that internships can benefit these students by introducing them to people with much more experience in the world of work.
"There's been weird times before, as well, and just to hear people talk about them in the past is sometimes nice because you realize this will be in the past at some point, too," Kelly-Albertson said. "Right now, no one is thinking 'normal' because we don't know what that's going to look like."
The more exposure students can get through internships, the more likely they will understand what a career path looks like and how their degrees and the state of Michigan fit into those career paths, she said.
"As a campus, we want to try to drive students to as many resources that are out there," Kelly-Albertson said. "So if there's a collective energy around Intern in Michigan and there are a number of employers excited about college students as interns, then we're going to make sure our students know that resource is there for them."
Brown encourages students to really focus on networking -- going to their schools' career services offices, approaching companies directly and talking to as many people as possible. She adds that employers with internship programs already probably have solid relationships with career services centers in their regions, and they should continue using those sources.
"Use our site," she said, "but our site should be an enhancement of what they're already doing through their career centers."