Internships boost STEM jobs, biz

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: February 8 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:21 am in

By Joy Grosser and Wade Arnold

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Every state is in a race to bring in well-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. Yet the number of qualified workers has not kept pace with the demand for talent. The 300 members of the Technology Association of Iowa are convinced Iowa can close the skills gap by offering paid internships for promising science, technology, engineering and math students.

Experience has shown time and time again that retaining young interns is far more successful than recruiting seniors who are being courted by out-of-state companies. Rather than wait until they are ready to graduate, we should compete for these students in their sophomore or junior years of college.

This strategic approach will serve our state in a number of ways:

l The interns will learn to solve real problems in a career environment.

l They can absorb and adapt to the culture and work habits of prospective employers.

l They establish roots in the Iowa employer’s community.

l And it could plant the seeds for the emergence of technology companies right here in Iowa.

As the chairwoman and vice chairman of the TAI, we both have experienced this first hand.

An internship at the Principal Financial Group ultimately led to Banno. This Cedar Falls-based company rapidly has emerged as a global leader in banking by providing a digital engagement platform that enables financial institutions to intersect decision points between their customers. Banno serves more than 425 financial institutions and employs more than 85 highly skilled people in Cedar Falls and Des Moines, many of whom started out as interns. In 2013, Banno attracted 32 computer science interns representing students from Iowa universities and as far away as Carnegie Mellon University.

And look at the field of health care. There are tens of thousands of STEM-educated people who provide clinical care, information technology, finance and accounting services at UnityPoint Health and dozens of other health care providers throughout the state. These organizations provide many paid internships for STEM-trained people, but we need to bring in many more interns capable of using the sophisticated technologies that are improving Iowans’ health.

Gov. Branstad’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 recognizes the need to fill the STEM-career pipeline. As part of his “Connect Every Iowan” broadband initiative, he has proposed investing $2 million in matching funds for employers to provide STEM Scholar Internships.

The state incentives would enable employers throughout Iowa to offer more students the opportunity to gain valuable career experience. Instead of hiring three interns, perhaps an Iowa company could employ six. Others may use the incentive to offer internships for the first time. And these matching funds would be available to employers in every corner of the state.

In either scenario, the internship experience can lead to permanent well paying positions in Iowa for hundreds of STEM trained young adults. The governor’s recommendation marks a strategic investment in young people that will pay dividends for decades to come.

The Technology Association of Iowa aggressively will seek legislative support to enact the program as soon as possible so that employers can expand their internship programs this year.

There are dozens of future Bannos waiting to be started by students who are studying STEM courses in high schools, universities and community colleges throughout the United States. The Stem Scholar Internship program can mean the difference between bringing that talent to communities in Iowa or letting STEM-educated students take their extraordinary talent and make their mark somewhere else.

Joy Grosser is chief information officer for UnityPoint Health and is chairwoman of the Technology Association of Iowa. Wade Arnold is founder and chief executive officer of Banno and is vice chairman of the Technology Association of Iowa. Comments: Joy.Grosser@unitypoint.org or wade.arnold@banno.com or TIA at info@technologyowa.org

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