Learn From Your Interns

Providing meaningful projects to your Interns and Co-ops is important.  Students can learn a lot about their professional development, your company, and their career development based on the workplace challenges your provide them.

Have you ever taken the time to consider the things you can learn from your interns?

Interns are an excellent source of information about themselves and their peers.  Once the orientation is over and they are starting to settle into the routine of your office – take some time out of your busy schedule to ask them some questions:

  • What kinds of recruiting activities have you seen other companies do that have impressed you?
  • What is the most off-putting thing you have seen a recruiter do?
  • How much did you know about our industry before you started working here?
  • Do you have any friends that you could recommend that I meet?
  • What did you think of your orientation?  Did it prepare you for the challenges of working here?
  • Is there too much hands-on?  Too much desk work?
  • Do you have a good understanding of our office culture?

By acknowledging this student as an expert about their life experiences, you will gain  business intelligence for yourself, but also gain the confidence, trust, and respect of a young student by simply listening.

 

The Value of Summer Jobs for Youth

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the labor participation rate, defined as those seeking employment or employed, is 17 percentage points below its peak in 1989. According to a J.P. Morgan Chase study, only 46% of teenagers that apply for a job this summer will actually become employed. A survey of official in 14 major cities estimates that tens of thousands of youths from economically disadvantaged families will not be able to find employment this summer in their urban centers. So what is the value of a summer job to teenagers in the short and long term?

My first summer job was at Arby’s restaurant in my hometown of Midland. My parents let me know it was time to begin earning money for college and spending on my social experiences. Up to that time I had done odd jobs here and there, but was never obligated to show up for work for scheduled shifts for a longer period of time. My friends made me aware of the job at Arby’s and I applied using them as a reference. After a 20 minute interview I was awarded the job, a uniform, a paper hat, and my first schedule including training sessions. I tuned up my bike for the 12 block ride to work 4 to 6 days a week. So what was the value of that job to me?

Working at Arby’s paid me minimum wage which was around $3.45 per hour. It didn’t make me rich. But that jobs value was more than the wage. It taught me time management. I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills. It taught me that with consistent and creative effort comes more responsibility, respect, and increased compensation. I found that doing more than what was expected increased my value in the eyes of my employer, while seeing those around me that did less than expected were rewarded with termination of employment.

At Arby’s each employee was part of a team whose mission was great customer service. My manager, Dave, didn’t play favorites but reward those that exceeded his expectations. The rewards may have been in the form of a free meal but often was just a moment of conversation and praise for specific actions we took that he appreciated. These conversations always concluded with statements of how it benefited others on the team and the customer.

So why are summer jobs so important to teenagers? Teenagers are in what experts call formative years. They are looking for purpose and direction that allow them to establish and endorse core values which will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Numerous studies have shown the value of employment. Success as an employee is like a self-confidence drug, once you get a taste of it you yearn for more. Lessons learned by a teenager during a summer job can help establish a strong work ethic, develop an understanding of how to contribute in a team environment, help prioritize tasks and much more. And the hidden take-away from a summer job? The never-ending yearning of each student to pursue a job where they can be successful in attaining the self-confidence drug is where the true value lies.

Putting the “Experience” into Experiential Education

Michigan Tech students were able to experience the inner workings of the Nucor factory in Crawfordsville, IN a few weeks ago.  This experience was made possible due to the hard work of AIST, Nucor, and Michigan Tech.

Because a bus full of 50 students were traveling, the trip logistics were carefully planned and accommodations for a group this size were considered.  The planned portion of the trip included a factory tour, dinners, and classroom training about leadership.

There are many adages about the “best laid plans” and Murphy’s law.  All of them apply here!

While the bus was en-route on this 12 hour journey, a combination of weather patterns forced the electrical utility to schedule the Electric Arc Furnace to be shut down during the tour.  Quick thinking at the factory resulted in a re-adjustment of both dinner and tour plans.  The Nucor team was able to rally to provide tours late in the evening and everyone ended up staying up later than planned.

Our students learned even more lessons than we had originally planned!  They got an excellent lesson in planning, resilience, and adjusting to changing conditions.  The key part of “Experiential Education” is that the experience will always be unique.

You can view photos of the event on our flickr page

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Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s words of wisdom at the Governor’s Summit – Blurred Lines!

This past Monday and Tuesday Michigan lawmakers, business owners, and educators convened in Detroit for the 2015 Michigan Governors Economic and Educational Summit. The goal, to continue an effort begun two years ago to create collaborative efforts between colleges & universities, K-12 schools, industry, and government to develop out students in to ‘top talent’.  Silos needed to be broken down to create a seamless space with a shared mission.

Collaborations with multiple partners is a challenge. Each must give up old routines and step out of their comfort zones, sacrificing the security of old ways to risk failures to achieve unprecedented rewards. Mohammad Ali once stated “the man who views the world at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” This message has resonated at each of the Governors past three Summits. Industry is changing with increased automation and technological advances, our students are now digital natives who can access any information with a finger and a smartphone, and how we teach them must change to accommodate for their propensity to learn through hands-on engagement. The world has changed a lot in 30 years and we must change with it.

Michigan School Superintendent Mike Flanagan will be retiring in July, leaving behind a legacy of over 30 years in education. He is the longest serving State Superintendent in Michigan’s history. His ten years of service included serving under both Republican and Democratic governors.

Flanagan reflected on his time in education with some short lessons learned that those at the summit should consider as they craft their next steps towards prosperity: never hire anyone dumber than you are, looking good is not as good as being good, teachers are the #1 force in the world, and give each of our kids hope first. Flanagan went on to add be weary of what people want. He quoted Henry Ford’s famous statement “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse”, supporting Flanagan’s philosophy.

Flanagan’s final word of advice was that student success is based on the efforts of many including industry, government, communities, educators, parents, and peers. Each of us has had times or trouble where we have gotten off course and stumbled. Success is born from the support networks we offer for our young students and each other.

He went on to share the story of Derek Redmond, an Olympic sprinter in the 1992 Olympics. Derek was the favorite to win the 400m dash. The rest of his story can be viewed through a YouTube video.  Derek was able to achieve victory while experiencing the agony of defeat with the support of his father in this unique and symbolic gesture.

The message from Governor Snyder and retiring Superintendent Flanagan was that the success of Michigan economically is the development and retention of talent through our efforts in education. This effort must be collaborative, where the lines between industry, community, education, and government are blurred. As we move forward we must remember the inspirational words of Winston Churchill, “A pessimist see the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Lean Thinking in an Office

In a manufacturing setting, waste is measured in terms of factory efficiency and scored by the accounting measurement system as part of the financial reporting process.  In an office setting, these measurements are harder to define but they “show up” in wasted effort, frustration, frayed nerves, and people staying late to help make the event a success.

Our Career Services group is known for coordinating our bi-annual Career Fairs.  Managing logistics for hundreds of companies, nearly a thousand recruiters, and several thousand students leaves very little room for error.  Most importantly, the future careers of our students are on the line.  With the economy improving and the excellent reputation of Michigan Tech students, the size and expectations for Career Services events have continued to grow.IMG_3605

As our department’s first step in our lean journey, we decided to start a morning huddle.  Initially, the primary focus of the meeting was our event-planning calendar.  This grid is a look ahead for the next few weeks to ensure everyone in the department knows what is coming next.  To make this happen, we re-purposed a dry erase board and moved it to a central area.  A few dry-erase markers later, we had the beginnings of a communication structure!

In an office where everyone is extremely busy, we had reservations about everyone sacrificing 10 minutes of their day.  We also were concerned that we would not know what to talk about!  These concerns turned out to be unfounded!  After a month of using this new process, the information on the dry erase board has changed.  Some things we initially placed on the board aren’t used anymore and we simply erased them.  New items are added as we develop new educational programming.  Using only markers and bad penmanship, the board continues to be dynamic.  We are starting to use rulers and magnets to make the look neater – but we don’t want to lose the flexibility of just getting the information communicated.

Our implementation of Lean Initiatives in our offices continues as time allows.  As we continue to add process improvements, these items will find their way back to the central huddle board.  It will be interesting to see what the board looks like a year from now!

To learn more about Michigan Tech’s efforts toward continuous improvement, check out their web page at: http://www.mtu.edu/improvement/

Ambition

Logan McMillan, first year Chemical Engineering student, impressed multiple companies at our recent career fair. Despite her lack of GPA and experience, DTE Energy and Toyota expressed serious interest in McMillan.

“Age is a limitation,” said McMillan. However, these companies were impressed by McMillan’s leadership roles and involvement in high school, as well as her involvement in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and potential for success at Michigan Tech.

In the days leading up to the fall 2014 career fair, McMillan attended multiple preparative events on campus. She attended an info session on Sunday evening, where she learned more about DTE Energy and was ultimately invited to attend a SWE dinner with DTE Energy’s company representatives the following night. The dinner served as McMillan’s first “interview” a co-op position.

Tuesday, the day of the career fair, McMillan approached 30-40 companies total. She printed off resumes and a cover letter and set off confidently determined to, at the very least, gain experience talking to company representatives.

But McMillan did more than this – even as a first year student, she was ultimately offered a co-op position in  January 2015 with DTE Energy as an office assistant for machinery management. McMillan has also been in contact with a company representative from Toyota, who has expressed interest in her for a summer internship opportunity.

McMillan expressed her excitement for these upcoming experiences, and encourages all students regardless of class standing to attend career fair. “They’re interested in your leadership and your involvement, not just your GPA,” she said, “There’s no harm in attending the career fair, but if you don’t go, you’ll never know.”

Persistance

Shelby Marter, a second year Scientific and Technological Communication student, found unanticipated success after attending the fall 2014 career fair. Marter had previously attended career fair as a first year student, but found herself empty-handed due to her non-engineering major. “It doesn’t really apply to me as an STC major,” Marter said. “People told me (before attending career fair) that you have to basically create a position for yourself. You’re not going to fit within their criteria, so just go talk to people and figure something out.” And it worked.

Imagine going up to multiple company representatives at random, introducing yourself, and then receiving a blank stare after you state your major. It sounds disheartening, but as an STC major, this is many times the reality.

With this experience under her belt, Marter decided that this year she was going in more prepared. And because she researched the different companies who were specifically looking for STC students, she felt more confident going into the fall 2014 career fair.

Unfortunately, she had no luck with the first few companies because most were actually looking for programmers or had accidentally selected STC as a major they were interested in. Marter remained determined, however, and moved on to Marshfield Clinic.

Once again, she introduced herself and her major.  The company representative started to explain that even though they had stated that their company was looking for STC majors, he didn’t believe that the components of her major fit the criteria of their open positions.

Marter wasn’t willing to accept another defeat so easily, so she asked, “Are you sure? Because I looked at your website, and the available positions, and they sound like what I’m interested in for a career after graduation. Could you tell me more about the positions being offered? Then I can tell you if it’s a good fit or not.”

He explained that Marshfield was looking for someone to perform usability testing for their IT department. The STC major at Tech is heavily based in usability testing, so Marter explained that all the criteria he showed her were either things she had already learned or would learn at some point in the STC curriculum.

So, Marter took a dim situation, and found ways she could add value to the company. She essentially talked her way into an internship she would otherwise not have gotten if she hadn’t prepared and remained persistent.

Tips for Job Postings

While working with our students and alumni, we constantly reinforce the idea of a single-page resume for our students.  The purpose of this exercise is to reflect on experiences, prioritize, and highlight the items that are the most important.  As a company, you want to give this same level of consideration to your job postings.

In many cases, the Human Resources “Performance Appraisal” form lists a variety of attributes used to rate employees to help identify areas for improvement and personnel development.  These lists are often checklists that are shared between multiple job descriptions because “must work well within a team environment” is a requirement for everyone that works at a company.  An enumeration of tasks to be performed on a job are a great way to “score” someone during an annual performance review, but it is a terrible way to help someone your organization’s work culture or even what the job entails.

Most companies will have a well-written “About Us” section on the company website that describes what the company strives to achieve.  The thing that is most often missing in job postings is the part that helps job applicants understand how their role helps advance the larger purpose.  Remember that this job posting is essentially the advertisement about why a choosing a to work for your company will make a difference in the world, the company, and the prospective employee’s career.

Take some time to be creative!  Describe not the job duties but how this function helps advance the depth and breadth of your company’s efforts to build better products and improve the world!  Perhaps the easiest test is to ask yourself, does this job sound exciting and would I understand the higher purpose being served by my participation in this role?  Emphasize your work culture.  Here is an example:

“Our company is building a team who shares the values of xxx, embraces collaborative efforts to develop creative solutions, values the unique skill sets of others, recognizes challenges but focuses on developing solutions, appreciates diversity in thought and background of fellow team members, and strives to be a contributor rather than an observer.”

Just like reviewing resumes, you may only get 60 seconds and can only make a first impression once!