Internship program keeps its momentum

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BRATTLEBORO >> The Department of Labor gave a local internship program another shot in the arm as employers around the state look for people to fill positions.

"We have more internships than interns. That mirrors the labor market in Vermont in general," said Alex Beck, workforce and education specialist at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. "We have jobs. We don't have the young people to fill them. Moving forward, the only barrier we face is we just want more bodies."

The BDCC was awarded $48,000 to keep up its Cooperative Internship Program. Most of the funding will go towards staffing and one employee, Beck, who took on the internship coordinator role early this summer after Jan Coplan took a job at Landmark College. He was running a Southern Vermont young professionals program with the BDCC since March or April.

Beck serves as the liaison to schools involved in the consortium of Windham County institutions called the Six College Collaborative, which includes Vermont Technical College, Community College of Vermont, Landmark College, SIT Graduate Institute, Marlboro College and Union Institute and University.

"I meet with all the deans once a month from the six colleges as well as the career services people to understand all their needs," said Beck. "Then I go out and visit the communities to find the internship opportunities."

Student and teacher needs are addressed at job fairs or in classrooms. Employers are asked what they are looking for and a job description may be written up. Beck asks if it is possible for an intern to do the work, he said "of course with the hope that if all goes well, they'll be hired on full time."

Currently, the program is seeing a 20 percent hire-on rate. While Beck may look at other areas for best practices such as Alabama, which just won a workforce development state of the year award, he understands Southern Vermont is unique.

"From what I heard, hire-on full-time data isn't something most programs even measure, which is one of the things we really lead with," said Beck. "All our workforce programs should serve an education and workforce need. And we don't believe in internships for internships sake."

Students are typically placed in a three or four month paid internship. Six months is usually the longest an internship will last.

"What we don't want to happen is for employers to feel any time is wasted by taking on and training an intern," Beck said. "We try to make it be a really good fit so the employer and intern have the highest chance of success."

Some interns will serve as consultants performing web development or graphic design, never having to commute. That can attract interns from up north or out of state. They have come from Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts, Keene, N.H., State College and Middlebury College.

Beck will read cover letters and resumes and provide feedback. A meeting or phone interview with potential interns will further prove whether they can be placed in a given position. Documents are then sent to the employer and an interview might be arranged.

"There's an assumption HR (human resource) departments or businesses know how to hire interns or someone new to the workforce," said Beck, who provides relevant interview questions to both parties. "We make sure everyone's expectations are aligned but we also make sure the applicant is comfortable. It's so important to getting a job."

Beck said he hasn't met any students who couldn't have taken on any of the internships. His goal is to convince them to come to or stay in Southern Vermont, where they could potentially become part of the young professional network that's starting to expand.

At first, many participants in the group's events were from Brattleboro. Now, Beck is seeing the number from nearby communities increase.

"We have businesses hungry and ready for young people," he said, mentioning the declining population of young people and a recent St. Michael's College survey in which most students said there were no jobs available in Vermont. "Part of our (BDCC and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies) big CEDS project (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies federally recognized document) was a hiring inventory. We know that there are quite a number of jobs so it's really how do we engage our college students early enough so they can say, 'Wow I can make it here.'"

The program has placements as far north as Bellows Falls and Rockingham then as far west as Wilmington and Dover, Beck said, giving him the opportunity to show off what Southern Vermont has to offer. He is always looking to expand and plans on doing more targeted marketing in the new year. Recruiting interns from different areas is a big part of the program.

"The program has been going really well so now the question is how much further can we go. There isn't an end in sight so that's exciting," Beck said. "There's a couple thousand young people coming through here (the six colleges) every two to four years. If we can retain them, that will be more young people to enter the workforce. That's what the economy is missing right now."

Beck can be reached at 802-257-7731 or abeck@brattleborodevelopment.com. He is always looking for interns and employers.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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