Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Employers are recognizing the value in hiring interns, while students are recognizing that an internship is an important step to a successful, fulfilling career. Michigan-based companies that offer internships are not only helping themselves, but also the state on the whole.

In Michigan, almost 40 percent of public-university graduates leave the state, a rate that must decrease to support economic recovery. Coming out of a 10-year recession, Michigan has the image of being the “no jobs” state, but the data tell us otherwise. In fact, there were over 389,000 job postings just in a 9-county Southeast Michigan area, up 27 percent from just one year ago. This rapid (and welcome) transition has many industries facing serious pipeline issues — lacking a pool of trained talent to fill positions — both now and into the future.

But how can we convince more college graduates to stay? Careers in advanced manufacturing—which is synomous with the automotive industry in this region — is a tough sell for many young people. Maybe internships can help.

According to Gov. Snyder’s Internship Dashboard, “Internships allow Michigan businesses to connect and build relationships with students early in their academic careers and students to build hands-on experience to facilitate entry into a professional career. Increasing internship opportunities supports Michigan’s goals to prepare our future talent pool and to retain college graduates within the state.”

According to’s most recent survey, more companies are hiring interns than ever before, and more students are interested in internships than ever before: 67 percent of Michigan’s 2013 graduating class had held at least one internship throughout the course of their college education—a jump of 6 percent from the 2012 class—and this growth is not expected to slow anytime soon. Likewise, 56 percent of companies plan to hire more interns in 2014 than they did in 2013. And why not? Interns not only put themselves on the track to success, but also the companies for which they work and the communities in which they thrive.

Michigan companies seem to have taken note. Intern in Michigan (IIM), a free resource matching internship-seekers with employers offering internships, has tracked internship postings over time. In the last quarter of 2011, when the Internship Dashboard began collecting this information, an average of 386 companies were posting for internship opportunities online each month. As 4th quarter 2013 (October-December 2013), that figure has increased to an average of 1,505 postings per month.

Many companies convert their interns to full-time employees, so the more internships available, the better chance the state (and Southeast Michigan region) have of retaining college graduates. But can students in Michigan find the opportunities they want, and do students’ interests align with employer demand?

Below we see the breakdown of students in each discipline who are registered on IIM, as well as the disciplines into which the internship opportunities fall.

      Data source: Intern in Michigan

The discipline of Business, Communications, and Journalism accounts for 30 percent of students looking for internships and represents 40 percent of the internships offered. There are more internships than students studying the discipline, so although companies may be trying to supplement their workforce with interns, there are not enough students to fill the positions. Likewise, Computer and Library Sciences make up a larger share of internships available than students seeking those internships. This represents a challenge in the Southeast Michigan economy, where IT is a rapidly growing field that is struggling to find experienced workers. More must be done to encourage young people to participate in these important career-related opportunities, both from an educational and experiential standpoint.

Some industries are displaying the opposite problem, with more students interested in a field than there are internships available. For example, in engineering, there are half as many internships posted as students interested in the discipline (12 percent of students seeking vs. 6 percent of companies posting). Engineering is an area getting a lot of attention for pipeline issues: Too many of these workers have left the state seeking opportunities in other locations. Internships could help convince more students to stay in place and help ease the transition between college and the working world. If engineering companies want to retain the best talent, more should consider offering internship opportunities.

Overall, the internship picture in Michigan is a positive one, and it becomes more positive with each month of reported postings. Exposing as many students as possible to their potential work environment prior to graduation better prepares students and also better positions companies to succeed in the long run. Keeping graduates in Michigan will ensure we have a quality pool of home-grown talent, keep (and retain) companies in the state, and keep the recovery going. The challenge will be making sure, both in the short- and long-terms, that job (and internship) demand and supply better align. Better awareness, career coaching, parental encouragement, and, yes, more internships—with the right participation from employers and students—are all part of the equation.

This blog was compiled with research and content from Sarah Sebaly, Project Manager – Strategic Pathways, Workforce Intelligence Network.

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