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MARGARET FOSMOE - 2/8/2014
Source: http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/education/businesses-offered-tips-for-intern-programs/article_7f8f9c9c-90ba-11e3-9768-0017a

SOUTH BEND - For area businesses, the greatest benefit to offering college internships may be the chance to work for several months with students who are potential future employees.

"Employers here tell us that finding top talent is one of their greatest challenges," Jeff Rea, president and chief executive officer of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, said during a gathering Friday to educate leaders of area businesses and nonprofit agencies about how to establish and run quality internship programs.

Expanding intern opportunities in the community is part of a new push by the Chamber. The effort is called internSJC.

Friday's gathering at the Gillespie Conference Center focused on best practices for creating or expanding internship opportunities.

The Chamber is encouraging employers and students to use IndianaIntern.net, a free online matching program and searchable database. Students can post resumes and employers can post details about their internships and how to apply.

Indiana employers often say they can't find job applicants with the skills needed for their industry, said Jennifer Fisher, culture and retention manager at Group Dekko, an engineering and manufacturing firm with a corporate office near Fort Wayne and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. "At some point, businesses have to be part of the solution," she said.

About 82 percent of businesses expect new college graduates to have some previous industry experience, Fisher said. "If young people are expected to have experience, we're going to have to offer it," she said.

There is a cost and time commitment to establish and run an internship program, but in the long run it pays off, Fisher said.

The average cost for a company to recruit and hire a new employee is about $8,000, Fisher said, while salary for a three-month summer intern may average about $5,000.

Although not all internships are paid, Fisher urges employers to find a way to pay interns for their work. Young adult interns bring a new sense of energy and new ideas into a company, and some easily will transition into employees after graduation, she said.

No more than 25 percent of an intern's work should involve filing and other clerical tasks, said Janet Boston, executive director of IndianaIntern.net.

Most area colleges encourage students to seek out internships for pay and/or academic credit.

All students at Holy Cross College are required to complete an internship before earning a bachelor's degree, because college leaders believe it's crucial for a student to have practical experience before graduating, said Chuck Ball, director of the college's Center for Discernment & Preparation.

Last year, Mary Jo Ogren, a director at Graham Allen Partners, an investment firm based in South Bend, hired 16 college interns for her company and four area technology-related firms.

Eight of the interns worked at Data Realty, a startup firm that runs a data center in Ignition Park in South Bend. Those interns were an asset to the company and several of them have since been hired as permanent employees, said Rich Carlton, Data Realty's president and chief operating officer.

"As a community, we have a habit of underselling ourselves. I don't think we do a good job of introducing students to employers in the community," Carlton said.

Graham Allen has had college interns since 2010. "They work on really high-level projects for us. They help us get everything done," Ogren said.

Colleges in northern Indiana work together in the Indiana Careers Consortium to connect students and employers. See: www.incareers.org.

INTERNSHIP GUIDE: Not sure how to start and run a good internship program? Check out "Intern Today, Employee Tomorrow: The Indiana Employer's Guide to Internships" at: indianaintern.net/pdf/IIN-EmployersGuide1-11-1.pdf.