Rob Parslow was getting pretty frustrated in his search last spring for an internship within the financial services sector, a step he considered critical to his pursuit of a new career in accounting.
He had sent out more than 40 resumes, including many to Fortune 500 companies that had active internship programs, and heard nothing back. He was on the verge of giving up when he went to a new Web site — and eventually hit pay dirt.
It was an opportunity with a small, East Hartford-based company called Horizon Services Corporation, which specializes in customized cleaning solutions for a wide range of clients. It had posted a listing onwww.internhere.comlooking for a quality-management intern who could help the company become ISO 9000 certified.
Parslow, a student at Springfield Technical Community College and a former Air Force officer, saw it, and became intrigued.
To make a long story short, Horizon Services eventually stepped back from its pursuit of ISO certification, but it engaged Parslow in the creation last fall of a quality-management system that is already paying dividends for the company.
And as he talked about Horizon, his work with the company, and the satisfaction he gains from knowing it is still using the system he implemented, Parslow made heavy use of the word we.
Which is exactly what the creators ofwww.internhere.comhad in mind.
The user-friendly, free of charge site was developed by business and economic development leaders involved with the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership, with the purpose of retaining more of the 235,000 students attending area colleges and universities; especially those who will be graduating in the next two years.
It is much too early to gauge how effective the site will be with regard to that mission, said Nancy Scirocco, vice president and business development officer for the Healthcare/Not for Profit Division of Webster Bank and chair of the committee that launched the site just over a year ago. But there are signs that it is successfully linking students with opportunities while helping companies, especially small- to medium-sized ventures solve problems and ultimately become more competitive.
“Student perceptions of the region have been causing them to seek jobs elsewhere,” she explained. “We believe this site can ultimately change those perceptions.”
At present, internhere.com is largely a Connecticut phenomenon — the vast majority of posted listings are from companies in that state and large firms there were instrumental in getting it off the ground — but officials on this side of the border would like to change that.
“I think this is a great tool with which we can hopefully keep more of our college graduates in this area,” said Bill Ward, executive director of the Western Mass. Regional Employment Board (REB). “We want to make people aware of this Web site and make full use of it.”
A Job to Do
Scirroco said the motivation for internhere.com can be found in statistics garnered from a 2003 survey completed by the Graduate Retention Committee of the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership.
Nearly half (45%) of the graduating seniors surveyed believed that better job opportunities were to be found elsewhere. However, 31% of those polled at the time of the survey were undecided. Meanwhile, 51% of students who had successful internships and co-ops in the area were more likely to stay in the region.
What the survey revealed was a matter of perception regarding the region and the job opportunities it presents, said Scirroco, adding that the region does have good jobs for graduates — but many simply don’t know about them.
The Web site was created to generate some awareness, she continued, noting that it has a wide array of information about the Hartford-Springfield region beyond internships, including its educational, cultural, and recreational assets. But part of its purpose is to link students with companies in ways that may create employment opportunities after the students graduate.
Here’s how it works. Employers wishing to use the site log on and enter a profile that will remain permanently on the site. Meanwhile, they can post specific internships and co-op opportunities and place them under categories of employment that range from accounting/auditing to underwriting; entertainment to IT.
Students, meanwhile, can log on and search through those listings as well as the company profiles, said Scirroco, adding that the site effectively exposes area students — not to mention others from well outside the area (inquiries have come from Brown University in Providence, for example) — to the vast array of career opportunities in the area.
But the site’s ultimate mission is to match students with employers, she said, and this is why the site remains free of charge — to encourage students and companies of all sizes to take advantage of it.
A look at some current postings gives an indication of the quantity and diversity of opportunities available. For example, the category ‘Communications and Mass Media’ lists dozens of entries.
They include internships in the University of Hartford Athletic Department, Boerhringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Jacobs Pillow, the acclaimed dance festival in Beckett, Mass., the Hartford Business Journal, the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition, ThinkGlobal Incorporated, the Northampton-based advertising and marketing firm, and many others.
Scroll down the listings in the category ‘Information Technology,’ and one finds posted internships for such companies and organizations as Abot Software, Hartford Stage, Pratt & Whitney, St. Paul Travelers, and New Wave Industries Inc., all in Connecticut and the Pioneer Valley Design Center in Springfield, among others.
It was under the ‘Accounting and Auditing’ category that Parslow found Horizon Services’ posting for an internship centered around creation of a quality-management program. He submitted a resume, and got a call from the company’s president, Ted Hsu (pronounced ‘shoe’) the day it arrived.
The two met and shook hands on a paid internship that brought benefits to both parties.
“He essentially acted as a consultant for us,” said Hsu, noting that Parslow’s first assignment was to read and digest (hopefully) the 700-page ISO manual and offer some recommendations. “That was well above and beyond the scope of a traditional internship; he did a tremendous job for us.”
Hsu actually posted two internships on the site — the other was for someone to focus on marketing efforts such as search engine visibility — and he found matches for both. He told BusinessWest that the resource proved an effective way for his company to reach out to a large audience of qualified candidates.
“What was unique about this site is that it let students know that there are real opportunities out there in small, growing companies,” said Hsu, who was referred to internhere.com from a colleague on the Conn. Minority Supplier Development Council. “That was the first time that link had been made.”
Getting the word out on the Web site, the opportunities if offers small companies, and success stories like Parslow and Horizon Services is one of the challenges facing the committee coordinating the site, said Scirocco.
She told BusinessWest that some aggressive marketing is planned to create awareness. Organizers are using area chambers of commerce, technology councils, other business groups, and some media advertising to not only familiarize business owners and colleges with the concept, but make it part of the economic development fabric in the region.
“People need to hear the message two or three times before it really sinks in,” she explained. “And that’s why we want to work with the chambers and other groups to make sure internhere.com isn’t a best-kept secret.”
Meanwhile, the committee will search for additional and more permanent sources of funding for the venture, she said. Several companies and organizations (most in Connecticut) have contributed money or in-kind services to the cause, including St. Paul Travelers, the MetroHartford Alliance, The Hartford, Northeast Utilitities, Pratt & Whitney, and Ashton Services, based in Springfield, which currently hosts the site. The state of Connecticut is currently considering legislation to provide steady funding toward upgrades and marketing, she noted, adding that similar contributions are being sought from the Bay State, but thus far without success.
“It’s easier for us in Hartford, because this is the state capital and we have some clout with the Legislature,” she said. “It’s obviously going to be harder in Western Mass.”
Ultimately, the committee will look to hire an individual to manage and market the Web site, she continued, adding that such a step is predicated on securing a steady stream of revenue that must be achieved without charging students, businesses, and colleges for using the resource.
“We don’t want to do that, because that’s one of the site’s big advantages right now,” she said. “Because we don’t charge, many smaller businesses and non-profit groups are able to take part.”
Work in Progress
Still another challenge for the committee is to introduce tracking procedures that will let site organizers know how many students have been linked with internships and if any of those individuals have found permanent jobs in the region.
After all, the stated purpose for the site is to increase graduate retention rates and reduce brain drain out of the Hartford-Springfield area.
Ultimately, Scirocco believes it will succeed in keeping students — one of the region’s biggest assets — in the area.
“The opportunities are there,” she said. “We have to make people aware of them and then make some connections.”
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]