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Ohio: 5,000 interns and counting

Susi Woodley, ABB Supply Manager with interns Dragan Pantic & Darcy Fyffe
Susi Woodley, ABB Supply Manager with interns Dragan Pantic & Darcy Fyffe - Bob Perkoski
Ohio internship and co-op programs made headlines earlier this year after the state earmarked $11 million from casino licensing funds for such programs, but Ohio's internship story doesn't start there. The state has long nurtured the tether between professional organizations and young talent. Since 2002, tens of millions in funds have fostered more than 5,000 interns through the Ohio Third Frontier Internship (OTFI) program.

The program is one effective tool in the effort to reverse the decades-old trend of young adult brain drain in Ohio. According to the Census population estimates, the state gained more than 50,000 young adults between 2010 and 2012 -- after losing more than 420,000 the prior two decades.
The state pays up to half the cost of internships (up to $3,000) out of Ohio Third Frontier – a $2.3 billion statewide bond fund re-approved by voters in 2010. The commission overseeing that fund just last month approved $2.8 million to eight regional partner agencies to fund 850 high-tech internships for 2013-14.
The nonprofit economic development/workforce partners coordinate with more than 500 Ohio companies and 49 colleges and universities. Since July 2011 alone, OTFI funds have placed more than 1,400 students. Each student can receive two funded internships within the following disciplines: advanced energy; advanced manufacturing; advanced materials; bioscience; information technology; instruments, controls and electronics; and power and propulsion.
"It's like a three-year interview process."
The OTFI program has been the lifeblood for Kinetic Vision, a Cincinnati-based product development services firm. More than 90 percent of the company's 55 employees are current or former interns. Of 21 OTFI interns placed since 2009, Kinetic has permanently hired twelve.
"When we got involved with the internship program was about the same time we started experiencing double digit growth rates in sales. That had to do with this pipeline," says Kinetic Vice President Jeremy Jarrett of the talent influx.
Kinetic works primarily with the University of Cincinnati to place majors in mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, computer science and information technology. Jarrett, who is also a former intern, says the process is extremely efficient as UC, which invented the co-op model, sends the company a packet of resumes each term. Students and companies can also be matched via a portal on the OTFI program's home page.
Jarrett says the interns immediately launch into hands-on projects including programming video game-like medical simulators to help doctors train prior to live surgery; using modeling and simulation to analyze stress placed on consumer packaging such as plastic bottles, and using industrial CT scan data to examine the interior of objects found in archeological digs.
Investing time and effort in their internships reaps valuable results for the company. "It takes some time, but it helped us develop a base of employees with very low turnover," says Jarrett. "It lowers the risk of hiring a poorly-qualified employee. It's like a three-year interview process."
Unleashing talent and initiative
The program administrator for a Canton-based regional affiliated partner of Ohio Means Jobs notes that the interns reap benefits as well via incredibly high quality and diverse experiences. Rhonda Chiurco of the Workforce Initiative Association, which operates as The Employment Source, says they range from Friday lunches with company presidents to discipline rotations that show them how various corporate departments interact. One intern even posed an idea for which a company pursued a patent.
"The student just doesn't come and sit in front of a machine. They are not getting coffee. Companies are embracing this part of the program," says Chiurco, whose organization averages 150 placements a year across 40 northeast Ohio companies. She cites the recent experience of an official at a small company trying to convince upper management to hire an intern. "He was able to show they'd get 50 percent back on the intern's wages. Now the intern has been in there two months and the company already wants to hire him. He is just blowing them away with the knowledge that he has."
An oil and gas boom, an internship boon
The need to promote talent retention is perhaps most important in Ohio's rural counties, which rank high among those losing young adult population, even while much of east and southeast Ohio experiences an uptick in high-tech workforce demand courtesy of the shale oil and gas boom.
The Washington County-based Southeastern Ohio Port Authority (SeOPA) has placed more than 53 students in only six months with 21 companies in seven counties. It plans to expand to 67 in 10 counties, says program administrator Michele Tipton. Most of the interns, she says, are petroleum, chemical, electronic and electrical engineering students. While the majority represent nearby universities, colleges and community colleges, she also services residents attending out-of-region schools.
For example, Tipton cites two students at an out-of-region school that were seeking placement within the oil and gas industry. She coordinated with Marietta College's Petroleum Engineering program – the 9th largest program of its type in the U.S. – for the students to take additional coursework and solidify their placement.
"If we want to continue to raise our population here, we need college students to stay," says Tipton. "The whole goal is to build that pool of talented workers for our region."
The private sector doubles down
While employers are limited to a maximum of 10 OTFI placements a year at each site, both Kinetic Vision and ABB's facility in Wickliffe believe so strongly in the internship program that they currently fund 10 additional interns above and beyond the OTFI cap. The enthusiastic public and private backing translates into real opportunities for young Ohioans such as Joe Trimble.
Trimble could have gone around the continent chasing his dream, but instead he opted to go just down the road.
The Lake County resident was completing an engineering co-op at the nearby Wickliffe facility when the company encouraged him to apply for a national leadership program. In it, he would have to serve rotations at various North American plants over two years.
"After realizing that I'd be leaving the people I know and love, there was a little more incentive to stay in the area," says Trimble, who graduated from the University of Toledo in December 2012. "I talked to my boss, who said he would give me an offer if I was willing to stay here."

Trimble ended up taking advantage of two OTFI internships at ABB. His first experience was in a systems engineering group working on control systems for a power plant, followed up with a stint in a multi-disciplinary proposal group where he currently works full-time. Both were stretching experiences for the trained chemical engineer.
"I learned so much about circuits and electrical engineering (in the first internship)," says Trimble. "In the proposal group, you get to work on your professional skills more than anything," he adds. "You have to talk with people, learn the etiquette of conference calls, the whole nine yards."
He admits that without the internship experience, "I'd be shooting resumes all over the U.S."

Tom Prendergast is a Mansfield-based free-lance writer.

Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted
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