DOE pathways place focus on high-school internships

February 16th, 2018

By Chelsea Boulrisse | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The Indiana Department of Education is looking to expand how schools define a student’s preparedness for entering post-secondary life, turning its attention to such avenues as internships to pave these new “graduation pathways,” building bridges between local high school students and the employers they could work for someday.

An option once saved for mainly college students looking to network and get their feet in the door ahead of graduation, local high-school students are now entering the internship search to fulfill high-school graduation requirements and get an idea of what they want their futures to look like.

The idea of these DOE graduation pathways have stood out since they were first introduced months ago for their decision to focus less on the state standardized tests, ISTEP or ILEARN, and more on tests like the SAT or ACT as well as industry certifications that students can apply to a career trade after graduation. The objectives of these pathways, as stated in the DOE’s recommendations, are to ensure every student leaves high school with “awareness and engagement,” of local career opportunities, a “strong foundation,” of career and academic skills and the ability to “demonstrate employability skills.”

Fort Wayne Metals is one such employer that recognized the value of an internship program years ago as a way to acquire and develop a “pipeline,” of young talent. The current program, according to internship program manager Jordan Brockman, still primarily works with university-age interns, but she added, the company has recently opened up opportunities for high-school students.

“If you start looking at universities, they’re pushing more of a requirement for on-the-job training,” Brockman said “Usually, that finds its way of trickling down to high schools. I think with that model, I’m predicting more and more high-school students will see that experience necessary.”

Brockman explained that its program for high-school students is more exploratory, providing options to shadow professionals and determine what career paths in the industry that might interest them. She added that they see a mix of students who come in – some who want to seek higher education after high school and some who are considering entering the workforce.

“We work with high-school students that want to continue on and this is a stepping stone or introduction to some occupations that would fall under their degree,” Brockman said. “Historically, I would say most of our interns are still in that tech field, but now we’re offering broader internships.”

Now that the support of the DOE is behind expanding internship opportunities, Brockman predicts they will see even more high school students applying for internships in the coming years, even before the requirements are implemented for the class of 2023. In addition, more employers are looking to develop their own programs and capture the interests and skills of potential employees while they’re still young.

At Fort Wayne Metals, according to Brockman, approximately 27 percent of the students taken on as interns eventually transition into full-time employment for the company.

“More employers are creating a model of training employees for long-term employment,” Brockman said. “It’s an investment hiring someone out of high school, but the hope is over the long-run they will benefit from it.”

The challenge facing most employers, Brockman noted, is not so much a lack of desire to hire, but the lack of resources to offer a worthwhile experience. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is taking the lead in helping employers build their internship programs in ways that prove beneficial for both the students and the companies and don’t drain their resources.

“I don’t think they’re hesitant about hiring high-schoolers; I think they’re hesitant on providing them an opportunity that is worthwhile,” Brockman said. “We hope to work with employers to show them it’s not that much of a drain if you do it correctly.”