Main Line intern program aims to keep college grads in region

Kevin Fink (right) landed a purchasing job at Allied Wire & Cable Inc. in Collegeville during his internship with the company. He gets some pointers from Allied executive Dan Flynn. The company liked Fink's work attitude, the HR manager said.
Kevin Fink (right) landed a purchasing job at Allied Wire & Cable Inc. in Collegeville during his internship with the company. He gets some pointers from Allied executive Dan Flynn. The company liked Fink's work attitude, the HR manager said. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 09, 2014

Allied Wire & Cable Inc. needed a sales assistant to support its growing staff at its Collegeville wire manufacturing and distribution center.

Here's what Cynthia Proska, the human resources manager, didn't have to do to fill the opening: She didn't advertise. She didn't post anything online, on any job board, anywhere. She didn't hire a recruiter. She didn't telephone a temp agency.

Instead, the company's sales manager called Kevin Fink, 26, college intern, into his office - and offered him the job, barely a month into his internship as an assistant in the company's purchasing department.

"They liked his work attitude," Proska said. "They liked his demeanor. He seemed to pick up the product line quickly."

Chalk one up for the Main Line Chamber of Commerce's fledgling college internship program - the Main Line Chamber of Commerce Talent and Education Network (TEN), now in its first summer:

One intern with a job. One company with a good hire. One more college graduate who doesn't have to leave the Philadelphia area to launch a career.

That's good news for Bernard Dagenais, the chamber's chief executive, who persuaded four companies in the area to set up their formal internship programs and gave them a lot of help in bringing on the first group of 12 paid interns, including Fink, from Peirce College.

"We consider this a pilot program," Dagenais said, designed to solve an important problem for chamber members. "Their need for talent - it's always one of their top issues."

The TEN group consists of the four companies and others, such as the Vanguard Group and the U.S. Liability Insurance Group, two large Main Line companies that already have robust internship programs.

Beyond individual companies, if a region wants to retain its college talent, internships are key, said Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly, a nonprofit set up to persuade Philadelphia's college graduates to stay.

She said Campus Philly research showed that 70 percent of area college students who have internships in Philadelphia stay in Philadelphia. Otherwise, the retention rate is 61 percent.

"That's why it is such a formative experience," she said, and she praised the Main Line Chamber's "high-touch" approach to linking companies and institutions. "It's a very concierge service kind of program."

Allied Wire & Cable is a case in point. Proska said her company had hired some interns informally, but a formal program was always out of reach, mostly because she didn't have time to develop it.

"A lot of companies haven't been able to make the investment," Dagenais said. Allied Wire and the other companies each paid the chamber $6,000.

In return, the chamber staffed college career fairs, posted openings on college job sites, and formed relationships with campus career counselors.

Chamber staffers acted as recruiters, interviewing company executives about job requirements, sorting through resum├ęs, conducting initial interviews and recommending candidates for follow-up interviews.

"Some companies aren't ready to have interns," Dagenais. "You have to work with them. You have to have projects for them."

Tim Flynn, Allied Wire copresident, said he considers internships a try-it-before-you-buy-it recruiting tool. "You get an opportunity to test-drive" potential employees.

As for landing the job, Fink said: "You have to have the mentality that you are constantly interviewing for the position."

"I was dedicated to constantly impressing my superiors," he said. "I never thought my job would have turned into a full-time position so quickly."

Intern 101: Best Practices

Give interns real work.

Have orientations for everyone - interns, managers, mentors.

Provide a handbook or web page that gives rules and expectations in a welcoming way.

Put recent young hires on a panel to talk to interns about life on the job.

Have a dedicated intern manager.

Help out-of-town interns find housing.

Conduct focus groups and exit interviews to check on the program's quality.

Invite college faculty and career center staff to visit to increase your company's profile on campus.

SOURCE: National Association of Colleges and Employers.



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