Internships keep the talent pipeline flowing

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the June 15, 2015 Daily Herald

                From commonsense internship programs to Culture Index, a computer-driven talent management program that led one suburban business to hire a job applicant whose resume didn’t make the cut during the company’s initial resume review, interesting things are happening in the people part of the entrepreneurial world.

Internships first.

Brian Sullivan and David Hinkston – one a partner in an Elgin CPA firm, the other president and CEO of an engineering firm in (coincidentally) Elgin – have similar reasons for paying attention to their internship programs: They need to keep the people pipeline full of talented young professionals.

“We need to look for entry-level engineers every year,” says Hinkston, president and CEO of Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick Inc., the engineering firm. “We need to keep the flow of young talent coming.”

“In our industry, public accounting, there aren’t enough people to go around,” explains Sullivan, a partner and head of the audit department at Mueller & Co. LLP. “We have to replace retirees and add new people as our business expands.”

That can be tough to do, however. “The unemployment rate for CPAs is approximately zero,” Sullivan says. “I hire 100 percent of my interns, by design.”

Internships are part of the solution at both businesses. Talk to Hinkston and Sullivan, however, and it’s clear their ideas can be adapted to almost any business.

The interns Sullivan sees “typically have had one (college) auditing class. We have them between their junior and senior years and (generally) then between their senior and fifth years.”

Two things set Sullivan’s intern program apart. Although he is “actively involved in recruiting,” Sullivan is well aware that potential interns “want to meet the 25-year olds we have, the Millennials. (The interns) ask very specifically ‘What does the firm offer you?’”

Once hired, each intern gets a week-plus training program. “The 21-year old walks in the door and gets a coach – a peer, someone who explains the software, talks about how we dress, lunch hour,” Sullivan says.

In fact, virtually every Mueller employee – including Sullivan – has a coach. But that’s a future column.

Hinkston doesn’t have to do much searching for engineering interns. “A lot of clients have relatives, and they come to us. And we know department heads at different colleges (who often recommend interns).

“But for full-time engineers, we have to recruit hard,” he says. The internship program may give HLR “a little bit of an advantage.”

The idea, of course, is that interns HLR brings on board for the summer construction season eventually come back as full-time workers.

The intent is to “give (interns) a good feel for what it’s like to work for an engineering company,” Hinkston says. Consequently, one intern is “observing how things actually get built, (because) we need a set of eyes on site.” Another, in environmental engineering, is “learning herbicides, planting, mowing – and doing some report writing.”

Next week: Managing the talent.


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