Internship program with the aim of getting kids to stick around

Aug 8, 2012

It's no guarantee, but the college internship can often lead to a job offer after graduation.

Economic development officials in Syracuse are hoping that getting more college students involved in internships at local, small businesses can help reduce the "brain drain" of young, educated people leaving the region.

CenterState CEO, an economic development agency, is ramping up its Project ION - Internship Opportunity Network - for another school year.

"There's an incredible talent pool right here in our community," says Elle Hanna of CenterState. "We need to do everything we can, as a community, to support that."

About 140,000 students hit the books within CenterState's purview (central New York and western parts of the North Country), according to Hanna, who says interest among students in the program has remained strong since it started in 2006, but the recession took a toll on business participation.

"It did see a little bit of a setback, but now we’re starting to see a nice uptick and we really want to encourage – re-encourage – businesses to come and participate," she says.

Hanna and her colleagues also have the challenge of convincing small businesses to join the program. Smaller companies often feel like they don't have the resources to set up an internship program and then handle interns once they're on board, according to Hanna.

"The more you commit as a small business, or medium sized business, one or two people to help you kind of bring that intern in, getting up to speed really doesn’t take as long as I think some of the fear exists that it does," she says.

There are also those companies that had a bad experience with an internship program and no longer offer the opportunity.

Having an intern can be a pain, says David Reed of F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse. But the rewards are there, if it's done well.

"When they've had the first bad experience, they may shut it off," Reed says. "At that point, you have to help the company understand how to do it better."

During August, Project ION will be working with small business owners to set up internship programs. In early September it will host an internship fair for students to meet companies.

Then comes the challenge of getting them to fall in love with working in central New York.