New intern program opens doors for high school students

High school students and employers interact at the Ponitz Career Tech Center career fair in Dayton. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
High school students and employers interact at the Ponitz Career Tech Center career fair in Dayton. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

A new program will make paid internships available to Dayton-area high school students the next three years and will connect some local companies with another pipeline of potential employees.

The Miami Valley Intern Academy is being launched this year by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, which has for years offered college internships. A handful of companies have expressed interest, and SOCHE is looking for more firms to participate.

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“A lot of our workforce is approaching retirement age, and companies are struggling with how they are going to secure their next generation of workers,” said SOCHE vice president of development Patty Buddelmeyer.

A three-year $90,000 grant from the Engineering & Science Foundation of Dayton will pay for 50% of the cost to employ each intern, with each company covering the rest.

Buddelmeyer said about 100 students will get an opportunity over the three-year span, some working limited hours during the school year and others working longer hours in summer positions. All area high school juniors and seniors are eligible to apply via SOCHE’s website.

“We’re really trying to get the word out that if a company’s interested, let us know,” Buddelmeyer said. “We’re looking at more in-demand industries, in particular engineering, computer technology, advanced manufacturing, health care, accounting, marketing, and other business-related fields.”

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In the past five years, state and local school officials have tried to get high school and even middle school students thinking in more depth about possible career pathways.

Fairmont High School’s career tech center adopted the motto, “Find out what you want to do and be, for free.” They emphasize that students can try elective and career-focused classes early, whether in health care, business or technology pathways, potentially avoiding the expensive problem of starting on one college track, then having to switch.

SOCHE President Cassie Barlow said the internship program offers the same benefit, giving students first-hand experience of what certain career paths are like in a real day-to-day job.

Buddelmeyer said SOCHE will work with businesses and a student’s high school to make sure the student’s skills, interests and academic preparation are a good fit.

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The group’s website said students’ advisors or counselors will be asked to fill out an employability form for them, evaluating skills ranging from communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills, to attitude and willingness to learn, to responsibility and resilience.

The benefits of a paid career internship for a high school student are fairly obvious, but Buddelmeyer characterized it as a “win-win” helping employers too.

“The company will be able to have an intern complete entry-level tasks that take away from management’s precious time (and at half the cost),” she said. “And it will offer companies another alternative in establishing relationships with future workers.”