A new program that rewards companies for providing paid internships is starting to get the attention of business and industry.
Funded with $500,000 in state general revenue, the Rhode Island Work Immersion program will pay half of the wages a college intern earns if the student is endorsed by his or her college or university, or half the wages for a temporary work experience provided to unemployed adults. Workforce funding is typically federal.
“It’s the first time in my recollection the state actually put in state public money for workforce programming,” said Janet Raymond, senior vice president of economic development and operations for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “I think you’re starting to see alignment among the various organizations involved in internships.”
Rick Brooks, executive director of the Cranston-based Governor’s Workforce Board, last month said the program was still so new, businesses and students had not yet taken advantage of it, but he expected that to change.
“Right now, we have a bunch of inquiries – 12 businesses and all the schools,” Brooks said. “They’re still in the initial stages of committing to the internships.”
Bill McCourt, executive director of the Rhode Island Manufacturing Association, planned to put the word out not only to 200 active members but manufacturers across the state. Before doing so, he planned to clarify what work younger students can on the shop floor. Historically, youth under 18 years old were not allowed to work on the shop floor, though they could do administrative work. But a recently passed bill does allow internships and apprenticeship programs, McCourt said.
The value of the work-immersion program is two-fold, Brooks said: Not only does it promote internships and temporary work for students and the unemployed; it also encourages businesses that might have in the past offered unpaid internships to students to consider a paid internship instead.
“I might explore that program,” said Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, which usually offers three unpaid internships a year. “It sounds like it would be a great program. Internships are a great gateway.”
Indeed, Brooks said, internships “are known to do several beneficial things: they increase the retention and graduation rates, and the post-graduation employment rates, and they increase the likelihood of college graduates in Rhode Island making a relationship with an employer in Rhode Island, so they are more likely to stay in Rhode Island.”
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