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Columbia Business Monthly

Interns Give Business a Big Assist

May 03, 2018 01:51PM ● By Makayla Gay

By John McCurry

   Internships have long been mutually beneficial for students and employers. Midlands companies increasingly view internships as a way to keep a pipeline of fresh talent flowing. Many are later hired at the companies where they intern. Following is a look at how internships work at several companies in the region.

Fast-growing medical technology firm Rhythmlink has had a robust intern program for several years. Many of the interns have been engineering or marketing students at the University of South Carolina. Pam Cody, the company’s vice president of accounting, also serves as its human resources director. She reports the program has been a big benefit, with several interns eventually becoming full-time employees.

Interns are a great help with the company’s growing workload. Rhythmlink looks for younger college students who can have more time with the company and grow in the process. Most work about 15 hours per week. The company currently employs three interns and has had as many as five at one time.

“We give these students real work experience,” Cody says. “They aren’t just copying documents; they are doing a job. We give them their own desk and computer.”

Many students apply for internships, but they must demonstrate they can adhere to the company’s core values and culture. That includes being trustworthy, accountable, team-oriented and able to focus on customers.

“We want students that show initiative and adaptability,” Cody says.

Hood Construction has had an active intern program for about 15 years. During the summers, the company usually has five to eight college students and 12 to 20 high school students working as interns.

“We work a good many high school kids every summer,” says Dean Wilson, vice president of construction and head of the company’s intern program. “We like to get kids at a young age who are interested in our industry and follow them through college as well.”

Wilson says the intern program is valuable for workforce development. Hood Construction has had a close relationship with Clemson University, employing interns from disciplines including engineering, construction management, and architecture. College interns have had a high placement level, with some coming to work fulltime at Hood after graduation and others being hired elsewhere.

Wilson says the intern program helps the company deal with the overall labor shortage in the industry and serves as a great workforce development tool. In recruiting interns, he looks for people who are eager to learn and who like to build things. He says the key is convincing young people that the construction industry can offer a great career.

Of note is that more women are becoming interested in construction as a career. Hood’s summer intern classes usually include several women.

“They are interested in entering the industry as project superintendents, as well as getting into management in our office environment,” Wilson says.

Public relations and marketing firm Flock and Rally is a big utilizer of college interns. It launched its intern program in the fall of 2011, and has hired 101 interns since then. Co-founders Debi Schadel and Tracie Broom say they look for students who express a firm desire to learn. They treat the interview process like a real job interview, so students can gain that experience, too.

This spring, Flock and Rally accepted six interns into their program, out of 15 who applied. That number usually ranges from six to eight. This semester, five are USC students and one is from Winthrop. This summer, the firm will seek to broaden the schools involved to include Benedict College and Columbia College.

“One of the reasons interns like working for us is we’re an integrated communications firm and the type of projects interns get to do varies on their interest,” Schadel says. “We match up tasks with what they want to learn more about across all of our different in-house services such as public relations, web and graphic design, community marketing, and social media.”

“One of the criteria we use when screening is to ask if they have taken a leadership role at school or with an organization,” Broom says. “Did they manage social media for an entire semester? Have they done part-time work? There are lots of ways students can get real work experience without being in a full-time employment scenario. Maybe they’ve done a blog, or traveled abroad, or are really passionate about art. That can show us drive.”

Strong writing skills are essential, Broom says, as is attention to detail.

“I’m at stickler for grammar and spelling and there are a lot of people out there who are sticklers, too. You have to have a strong handle on grammar and syntax.”

Both Schadel and Broom say they have been impressed with how motivated students are. Over the years, the number of applicants has increased as word has spread about the program.

“We are told regularly by interns who exit our program that they have learned a lot in our program and that it has been as valuable as their coursework,” Schadel says.

First Citizens Bank started its corporate intern program five years ago. Last year, it employed 30 interns across the Carolinas, working in various roles. Interns work with different groups within the bank to gain skills, including information technology, wealth management, and the mortgage department. In Columbia, the bank has hired student interns from USC and Columbia College.

“I’m excited about having an intern assigned to the mortgage group this year,” says Melanie Jackson, senior vice president and mortgage operations manager in the bank’s Columbia office. “We work with our interns to give them skills such as principles of banking, professionalism, and personal branding.”

Jackson says the program helps the bank build a pipeline of professional talent. The 12-week program starts in May and runs through the summer, with some interns also working during the school year.