An internship program developed by Springfield City Schools could expand countywide as it works to link local businesses and some of the area’s best students.
The program has grown each year. Local leaders said it fills gaps in employment at area companies, retains talented workers in Clark County, and provides students with a chance to gain real-world experience at a variety of jobs.
The next step is add more schools and businesses, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve got a skeleton,” Hobbs said. “Now how do we get more meat on the bones.”
The program started with only about 10 applicants two years ago, but that number grew to about 30 last year. This year, district officials expect to provide paid internships for about 40 students.
Last week a panel of educators and consultants who assist with the program spent the morning fine-tuning their evaluation process and sifting through a stack of about 80 applications.
Along with Springfield City Schools, representatives from the Clark-Shawnee Local School District and the Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center are participating.
Last fall, Springfield schools also hired Cathy Balas, a part-time consultant who specializes in college and career readiness. Balas is tasked with creating an evaluation process for applicants and developing connections with local businesses, among other duties.
Whenever possible, the program tries to match students with a job that meshes with their skills or an area of interest, said Kim Fish, a spokeswoman for Springfield schools.
The program also helps small businesses, who might have work available for an intern but don’t have time to sift through dozens of resumes.
The majority of participating students eventually go to college, Fish said, and as many as 80 percent of students who remain in high school or attend college return to the same company for a second internship. A handful of students end up with full- or part-time jobs immediately after their internships are complete.
“It really is a path to a career, and a pretty direct path,” Fish said.
Interns like Cody Wicks are why the program has been successful, said Deanna Nesbit, human resources director at McGregor Metalworking Companies. Wicks, who works full-time in the company’s information technology department, graduated from Springfield High School in 2012 and was one of the first to participate in the process.
“He’s like the rock star of the whole intern program,” Nesbit joked.
Wicks always enjoyed working with computers, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He considered joining the Air Force, but found his niche setting up computer networks, repairing printers and tablets, and making sure the company’s networks are secure.
Wicks plans to eventually earn a degree, but will continue to work in the meantime and knows he has a good job when he graduates.
“When (Cody) came in, he fit right in and he’s learned on the job,” Lon Richardson, IT systems supervisor for McGregor Metalworking. “He picks it up and he runs with it.”
Springfield City Schools is now working with the chamber of commerce, Ohio Means Jobs of Clark County and other entities to expand the internship program further.
The two requirements, she said are that other districts bring new businesses or other connections to the table, and that they provide a point person to coordinate the program.
Businesses who participate must also offer internships that will help the students learn new skills, as opposed to odd jobs like filing paperwork or getting coffee, said Rick Butler, a consultant who is assisting with the program.
“We want them to be involved in an actual daily work environment,” Butler said.
Students who apply learn other skills, even if they’re not eventually selected for an internship, Balas said. For example, they learn how to show up on time, dress professionally and practice going through a job interview.
The program tries to make sure students are prepared because an employer who has a bad experience may no longer seek interns in the future.
“This really provides a significant difference to Springfield and Clark County employers,” Balas said. “They really have a pre-screened workforce.”
County and city officials were already looking for ways to develop the area’s workforce, when they started taking a closer look at the model provided by the school district.
“This is an economic development strategy, but it’s also a workforce development strategy,” Hobbs said.