Building opportunities

January 11, 2017 GMT

La PORTE — Manufacturers in La Porte County looking ahead toward a new generation of employees were introduced to an internship assistance opportunity from nonprofit Conexus on Tuesday night.

Conexus, an organization based out of Indianapolis, works statewide with the goal of assisting both students and manufacturers in Indiana with an internship program which allows high schoolers to gain education and experience in the advanced manufacturing and logistics field.

“We want (students) to get more exposure to the manufacturing jobs that are available,” said Conexus Workforce Development Manager Tracey Everett. “We’re hoping to help companies create that pipeline of students to fill those roles that are in demand.”

Everett spoke at the La Porte Manufacturers Association meeting where she presented the internship program, entering its third year, to both area businesses and school representatives.

“We realized there was kind of a shortage of internship opportunities for students in this field. Companies were really hesitant to bring in anyone under 18, but we knew of companies who did that successfully, so we knew there was a way to do it safely, legally and effectively,” Everett said.

The program recruits students from area schools, allowing companies to access their applications and bring them in for interviews where they then can select and hire who they desire for a six week, full-time, summer internship.

“For companies who participate, the first year… we cover the wages of the intern and we ask companies pay at least $9 an hour. We cover that $9 an hour wage,” Everett said, adding companies are able to offer more than $9 an hour, but would cover the difference.

The second year a company participates, Conexus would cover 50 percent of the interns’ wages.

“The third year we hope the companies see value in having the interns and covers the costs,” she said.

The internship program is grant funded, with grants coming from the Lilly Endowment along as coming from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Everett stated last year 79 companies participated in the program which attracted 508 student applications and led to 230 student interns being selected for summer positions.

“We help recruit the students from schools,” she said. “They have to have prior base of knowledge, so they have to have taken an appropriate course in high school. They have to be 16-years-old, recommended by a teacher in their school and they have to have 95 percent attendance rate. Those are the big things industry really cared about.”

La Porte High School is partnering with the program, students sending in their applications which are due by Jan. 31. Everett stated the deadline for companies to get involved has technically passed, but they will still happily accept interested parties.

“We are happy to still take interested companies, especially in this area because we would like to see more companies participate,” she said.

To participate, contact Conexus by calling (317) 638-2107 or via email at interns@conexusindiana.com.

Along with the internship opportunity, the program offers a summit which also benefits students by bringing them together and offering assistance on soft skills, interviewing and working with them on transitioning to secondary programs at places like Ivy Tech and Vincennes University where they can learn further middle skill jobs.

Everett stated there are numerous companies in need of middle skill jobs, like maintenance technicians, where a four-year degree isn’t required and for some high school students these routes may be a good option offering little to no educational debt and a great career.

“The number one factor that influences students decision making in their career is their own personal experience, by far outweighing parents’ influence, teachers’ influence,” Everett said.

“By giving them an opportunity to have an internship, they can actually get experience in that field and hopefully persist with either appropriate post secondary or go into the workforce for these companies.”

With the AK Smith Center in Michigan City and La Porte High School’s higher tech class boasting 40 students, Everett stated La Porte County has the potential future workforce to be introduced to area companies through internships, which she believes would be a win-win for both companies and students.

“We want to make sure there are enough opportunities for the kids to keep them in this field and not lose them to something else,” she said.