“Many states experience the issue of ‘brain drain,’ particularly in the Midwest,” said Janet Boston, Executive Director of Indiana INTERNnet. “Students are trained here by our colleges and universities but they’re leaving for jobs elsewhere. We know there is a very strong correlation between internships and being employed by that employer.”

This ability of internship programs to retain talent has spurred a growing interest in internship programs as well as the launch of internship-matching portals catering to in-state employers. In the Midwest, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and most recently, Wisconsin, all have websites dedicated to promoting their state’s internship opportunities.

Launched this past July, Wisconsin’s WisConnect portal exceeded expectations for adoption in the early days. Working out of the state’s department of workforce development, the initiative’s staff used a boots-on-the-ground strategy to recruit companies and build awareness among college and university career programs.

“Given our initial success, we’re gearing up for a blockbuster spring semester,” said Timothy Strait, PhD, Coordinator of the Wisconsin Internship Initiative, which launched the portal. Strait explained that students typically begin searching for their summer internships in the early spring.

Learning from and communicating with state employers has helped to shape these online resources. To keep employers coming back, the portals have to be easy to use, save time, and deliver qualified candidates.

Probably the longest running state-focused internship portal in the country, Indiana INTERNnet was launched in 2001. Over time, the site has undergone multiple iterations evolving with new technologies and the needs of employers, educators, and students. The desire to provide a single place for employers to list their internship opportunities prompted them to develop a way to push their listings out to partner college and university portals across the state.

Making the site easy to use has paid off for WisConnect, as well. “We were giving a presentation the other day and there were a couple of people from an area business sitting in the back of the room. We could see that they were on their phones. After the presentation, we found out they had actually gone on the website through their phones and set up a business profile midway through our presentation. They were impressed with how quick it was for them to do that literally on the fly,” said Strait.

State-Focused Internship Portals in the Midwest

Employers, list your internships and get support for growing your internship programs through these resources in your state.

Understanding student behavior is also an important part of keeping these portals active. “We found that students don’t return to websites if they don’t find what they are looking for. So, we added notification functionality. If they have saved their search on the site and given permission, it will text or email them whenever an internship with that keyword comes up,” said Boston.

Behind these portals are services for state-wide employers to get help launching or building successful internship programs.
“Our goal is not just to connect students to internships but to provide those resources to grow the number of internships available in Wisconsin so we can retain more of our skilled college students after graduation,” said Tyler Tichenor, Communications Specialist, Advanced at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

“Part of our role is convening. We can bring two parties together,” said Boston who points out that they bring employer representatives along as part of their outreach activities and presentations around the state. One of their collaborators and a member of their Employer Advisory Committee is a large logistics company. Their presence at outreach events helps raise awareness about the field.

“They help to raise awareness of what logistics means. We’ve found that many educators don’t necessarily know what that means or entails. They automatically think ‘truck drivers.’ They don’t realize all the other careers that are in logistics,” said Boston.

Internship programs are growing in popularity not just at the post-secondary level but also for high school students. Indiana INTERNnet is currently piloting a new arm of the website with two high schools to provide high-school internship related services. In addition to posting internship opportunities, this arm of the site will also have mechanisms for high schools to reach out to area employers about job fair or to seek job shadow opportunities.