Interns at ALMACO get much more than an overview of the company’s custom-built agricultural equipment. They become part of the team.
Brian Carr, ALMACO’s vice president of engineering, said student employees at the Nevada-based company get directly involved in completing projects—from initial design, through problem-solving challenges, to the eventual result.
“We ask them to participate in every aspect of the development of a product,” Carr said. “It’s all collaborative engineering, and they’re just one more voice in the game.”
Businesses long have viewed internships as a valuable way to add those fresh voices, said CIRAS account manager Derek Thompson, but not everyone has the budget to fully fund intern programs. A grant program offered through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) seeks to change that by providing matching money to help small- and medium-sized Iowa businesses such as ALMACO take their first dips into the student talent pool.
Grants are open to businesses in advanced manufacturing, biosciences, and information technology. The program is beneficial, Thompson said, in that it directly provides money to cover up to one-half the cost of interns’ pay. [Applications for the fall semester are now available on the IEDA website.]
Seeding interns into smaller Iowa companies may eventually prove essential to filling permanent manufacturing jobs, Thompson said. Otherwise, “how do you identify and attract engineers to towns of less than 5,000 people, less than 10,000 people?”
Thompson said he makes it a priority to educate clients about the grants. “I actively promote that program daily.”
Iowa State had 114 interns (including 80 engineering majors) covered by the program between fall 2015 and summer 2016.
“Iowa State is definitely the school with the most student interns in the program around the state,” said Jennifer Meier, IEDA program manager. “Iowa State University College of Engineering students are the most highly recruited interns by the employers that use our program.”
Stellar Industries, Inc., a Garner-based company that produces hydraulic truck equipment, has participated in the state program since 2000, said human resources manager Leanne Van Oort.
“Interns have worked in groups as well as on individual projects within our departments, mainly within our manufacturing engineering and mechanical engineering departments, but also the purchasing and supply chain management departments,” she said.
Stellar frequently hires its interns for full-time jobs, Van Oort said—as does ALMACO.
“The more contact we can have with students, in a positive light like that, the better off we are,” Carr said.
Ed. Note: This story originally was published in June 2017. But the program remains valuable for Iowa businesses.