(Posted Sept. 26, 2018)
By Lori Smith, Staff Writer
Pairing Madison County students with local businesses is the focus of a new internship program coordinated by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Madison County Future Inc., and Tolles Career and Technical Center.
According to Steve Cawley, marketing and logistics instructor at Tolles and the internship coordinator, the program is in the developmental stages, but he expects organizers to start matching students with businesses after the first of the year.
“We’re very excited about it,” Cawley said, noting the idea came about after a meeting at which business leaders lamented the lack of qualified entry-level workers. “They were saying: ‘We have the jobs, but we don’t have the work force.’ Tolles has always provided a similar program within our building. Now all schools within the county will be included.”
In addition to serving Tolles students, the program will offer internship opportunities to seniors from the Jonathan Alder, Fairbanks, West Jefferson, London and Madison-Plains school districts. Students will choose from job shadowing, unpaid internships, or paid internships and may be able to perform the work as part of the regular school day or on evenings or weekends, depending on the opportunity.
“We just want the companies to give our students experience in the work force,” Cawley said. “I guess you could call it entry level, but it’s not just running to get coffee and doughnuts. They are actually working and getting graded on their experience.”
Utilizing contacts from the Tolles advisory board, the students may apply for the positions and go through an interview process, Cawley said. Student must be academically on track to graduate in the spring, have a grade point average of 2.5 or above, have a 95 percent or better attendance rate, and receive the recommendation of an instructor.
“We may provide each business with two or three candidates, and they will get to choose one through an interview process,” he explained.
Students are expected to have good organizational skills, value teamwork, understand the importance of attendance and punctuality, have a good work ethic, and be dressed appropriately with good personal hygiene.
“Those qualities are pounded into their heads before they even leave the building,” he said. “We tell them, ‘We want you to put a good foot forward.’ ”
Although Cawley is still talking to various companies around the county about the details of the internship program, he said Tolles already has business connections through the 21 programs it offers, including medical, automotive, construction, shipping, culinary and much more.
“It really is a full spectrum,” he said, noting that many of the internships can lead to further opportunities. He noted one student who interned for an automotive company.
“She is now working there full time and also getting her college paid for.”
Another student started in an administrative position at an engineering firm and now runs the human resources department for the entire company.
Once a student is accepted into the internship program, Cawley will check back to make sure the student is fulfilling their end of the agreement.
“It really is a win for the employer because they are getting some help that they need, while the student is earning class credit and gaining work experience,” he said.
David Kell, executive director of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Madison County Future Inc., said businesses are excited about the prospect of joining forces with the schools.
“They are saying they need quality employees of very different levels,” he said. “The schools have been working on strengthening their relationships with the area businesses, so why not take it county-wide?”
Kell said big and small companies alike have responded positively to the news of the internship program.
“We want it to be extremely successful, but we’re prepared to start small and grow from there,” Kell said.
Businesses interested in creating an internship program should contact David Kell at email@example.com or Steve Cawley at firstname.lastname@example.org.