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May 25, 2016

Panel Asserts that Internships Are Essential to Economy, Diversity and Communities

By Daniel Margolis

PanelTo connect the dots on education to employment, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce presented Pathways to Pipelines this week, featuring a panel moderated by Rex Huppke, workplace columnist with the Chicago Tribune. On the panel were Gretchen Koch, executive director, workforce strategies, the Creating IT Futures Foundation; Eujin Kwak, Midwest campus recruiting specialist, Protiviti; and Sandee Kastrul, co-founder and president, i.c.stars.

Huppke began the discussion with the general observation that work experience is a good thing, and it’s important to begin this in school. Koch said that toward that end, Creating IT Futures has worked with five early college STEM school programs to partner employers with high school interns. She said that “employers have been very, very pleased” with the interns that the schools produce but that “it’s tricky to get companies to sign up for this when these are high school students as opposed to college interns.” The trick, she said, is to place students in specific projects working in the community.

Kastrul described her work with i.c.stars, a non-profit leadership and technology training program that prepares inner-city adults for tech careers and community leadership roles. “I fell in love with teaching technology because it’s a neck-up thing,” she said. “You don’t teach tech in a vacuum; you leverage it to make a difference in communities.”

Kwak weighed in on the vast difference between types of internship programs. “When you think about your intern program, depending on the type of company, you might have them more like cheap labor or temps, or on the other end of the spectrum, you might be recruiting talent,” he said. Kwak added that internships are about moving education from theory to application. He also noted that Protiviti’s best interns select companies based on their environment and people.

Huppke noted that this is a characteristic of millennials, adding, “I could go out on the street, shout ‘millennial’ three times and get a book deal.” Building on Kwak’s point, Huppke said, “People want to know who they’re working for, why they’re working there, and believe in it; until they get there for a while and have their souls crushed,” drawing laughs from the crowd.

Koch asserted that IT has “a major diversity problem.” “Employers [that] self-report say 75 of their IT staff is made up of white males,” she said. “They have to fix that for their own competitive advantage.”

Building off this, Huppke said, “If companies don’t want to do something because it’s the right thing to do, they can do it because it’s the smart thing to do. I’d prefer the former but I’ll take the latter.”

Pathways to Pipelines also saw a presentation from Stan Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs with IBM and president of the IBM international foundation. He’s the architect of Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a grade 9 through 14 schools initiative to engage companies, colleges, communities and schools strengthening America’s economic competitiveness by connecting education to jobs. Sara E. Goode STEM Academy is a P-TECH school in Chicago, and one of the five schools Creating IT Futures works with for setting up high school internship programs.

Litow threw out some statistics and assertions germane to P-TECH: we’ll have 14 million new STEM jobs in the U.S. by 2018 and won’t have enough skilled workers to fill them; a high school diploma is no longer a ticket to the middle class; and nearly all jobs in the next decade will require a two-year degree. Litow quoted President Obama as saying, of P-TECH in October 2013, “This country should be doing everything in its power to give more kids the chance to go to schools like this one.”

Asked by a member of the audience what provided the impetus behind P-TECH, Litow said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called him and said, “We have a problem. Nothing in schools is linked to jobs and the economy. Will you help?” So, working with New York City schools, Litow drafted a proposal over the course of two days and Bloomberg presented it on Meet the Press that Sunday.

Daniel Margolis is manager, editor at CompTIA.