As recession eases, companies bring in more interns

Justine Yeh, 22, talks with Burlington Coat Factory's Donna Norton at Philadelphia University.
Justine Yeh, 22, talks with Burlington Coat Factory's Donna Norton at Philadelphia University. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 18, 2013

On the business front, no one can deny the wreckage wrought by the last recession. Companies faltered, died, or ended up on life support, barely breathing.

That was then. Now, the improving economy is giving the survivors the confidence and capital to buy distressed businesses, which is why Porto Leone Consulting L.L.C. in Wayne needs more college interns this year, up to five instead of three.

"When buyers make an acquisition, they don't know what the company is worth," said Rose Moroz, a Porto Leone executive, as she waited to talk to potential interns at Philadelphia University's spring career and internship fair on Thursday.

The expanding economy means that companies are expanding the internship programs, employment experts, college career officers and employers say. Porto Leone, a company that assesses the value of buildings, equipment and business for transactions, follows the trend. At the recession's low point, the 30-employee company recruited no interns.

For companies, which often try to convert their interns to employees, hiring interns is a long-term bet on the future of the economy, said Edwin Koc, director of research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem.

It's a long-term bet, because companies have to predict in the summer what their hiring needs will be the following spring, nine months later, when their interns graduate and are ready to join the workforce.

But because the economy has been so shaky, companies have been reluctant to make those predictions, Koc said. "They don't want to bring in too many interns and then find they can't" offer them jobs, he said.

Instead, hoping business improves, they wait until closer to May to hire college graduates, meaning they may not have as many interns in their hiring pool as they might like.

The upshot? "One thing I've noticed is that the growth in internships has not kept pace with the growth in full-time college hiring," Koc said.

The association tracks internship trends:

In 2012, companies increased internship slots 8.5 percent and co-op spots 7.5 percent. Students report that 46.6 percent of their internships are unpaid, with nearly 39 percent of those in for-profit companies.

The conversion rate of interns becoming employees hit a high in 2012 of 58.6 percent.

Nearly nine in 10 interns offered a full-time position accepted it.

Hires drawn from internship or co-op programs tend to stay with the company longer, 62.1 percent at the firm five years later, compared with 48.1 percent of other hires.

NACE's annual internship report won't be released until April, but Koc thinks 2012 trends will continue in 2013.

Campbell Soup Co. expanded its program in 2012, adding a human resources internship. The Camden company uses 70 interns a year in marketing, engineering, research and finance, hiring 75 percent at graduation.

At Philadelphia University's job fair Thursday, a full house of company representatives accepted resum├ęs from students.

Because the university emphasizes fashion merchandising and retail, the mainly female applicants constituted a walking fashion magazine of style - not many enrobed in the traditional black suit.

"It's important to get real-world experience," said sophomore Rebecca Mensch, a fashion merchandising major in a black-and-white dotted dress and ruffled black sweater.

Bert Stewart, a college recruiter for Ross Stores Inc., entertained Mensch and a steady stream of her classmates at his table. In 2010, Ross snapped up 55 interns and now needs 95.

"We plan to add 500 stores in the next three or four years," he said.

The company wants interns in buying and location planning, hoping to turn the best into employees later. Most interns will work in the California company's New York office.

Calvin Roach, a career program specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense Logistics Agency in Northeast Philadelphia, hopes to attract 20 to 25 interns - many of whom he hopes will stay on as full-time employees.

The agency supplies materials for the armed forces, so it needs contract specialists, quality assurance experts in textiles and food, supply chain management and demand forecasters. Roach particularly wants to find a textile engineering intern.

"We need testing in all sorts of fields," he said.

Boscov's, the Reading-based department-store chain, is looking for 12 interns, down from 18 typically used at the start of the recession in 2007.

"We're a little more cautious now," said Linda Edmiston, director of employment and human resources service.

Contact Jane Von Bergen at, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at

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