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Posted on Sat, May 26, 2012 : 7 a.m.

The E-Harmony of internships -- matching employers with young talent in Michigan

By Tom Watkins

Editor's note: The stock photograph used with the column has been removed due to several comments that were posted about it.

Perhaps the only thing worse than Michigan's "brain drain" -- losing young professionals and college graduates for greener pastures than Michigan -- is the uneducated youth staying behind.

Michigan cannot "reinvent" itself to be competitive on the global stage without retaining and being a magnet for young professionals who possess the training and education, coupled with an entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit.

There is a clear mismatch between large number of unemployed and employers seeking skilled employees.

Many of us have experienced the problem of having a college degree but lacking work experience. The employer seeks skilled workers with experience while the inexperienced wannabe employee has the desire but not experience. Therein lies the rub.

Enter Intern in Michigan to help fill the experience gap and help reverse our state’s brain drain. Intern in Michigan is an outgrowth of the New Economy Initiative funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

Wendy Pittman, executive director of Intern in Michigan, and her team have learned a great deal about why young, skilled workers leave Michigan. They are putting that knowledge to work.

There are literally hundreds of companies looking for college-educated talent even as thousands of students seek internship opportunities to gain valuable experience. I view Intern in Michigan as the ultimate matchmaker, helping to connect business with interns and vice-versa.

Citing the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Pittman says companies converted 58 percent of their interns into full-time employees last year and about 83 percent of students stay in the region where they intern. Simply put, students stay where they are wanted and there are opportunities.

We know that if our youth leave the state, recruiting them to come back becomes exponentially more difficult not to mention expensive. It is reported that over the last 10 years, nearly 50 percent of college graduates left the mitten state to find employment elsewhere. Sadly, for parents and the economic vitality of our state, we know most of them are unlikely to return.

A quality internship is a proven strategy for keeping our youth in Michigan.

Talent is the 21st century commodity that will drive the global economy.

Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future has been beating that drum for over a decade, saying, "Talent matters!"

If we want to have a prosperous Michigan we need an educated citizenry.

Connect the dots. Since its launch in November 2012, Intern in Michigan has posted more than 2,000 internship opportunities at more than 900 companies throughout Michigan. These internships are as diverse as is the range of companies that span our great state.

Not only is Intern in Michigan helping to keep young Michigan talent in Michigan, its acts as a talent magnet as well. To date, 10,000 students from colleges and universities throughout the country have registered at seeking meaningful internship opportunities.

Gov. Rick Snyder realizes there is a mismatch between employers seeking employees and workers seeking jobs and has put technology to use, creating at Pure Michigan Talent Connect.

Pittman is looking to partner with, business associations, chambers of commerce, government agencies, and employers large and small to help to spread the word that "hiring interns in Michigan will create a strong foundation for reversing the brain drain."

How very right she is!

Our Michigan motto has always been "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you." We all need to do our part to keep our youth, our future, here at home.

There is a growing recognition that Michigan is prospering again. For three years running, Michigan has had more plant and expansion projects than any other state in the nation.

Working together, with "relentless positive action" we can reverse the brain drain, match employees with employers, and provide a solid foundation to continue rebuilding state we love to call home.

Wendy Pittman can be reached at

Tom Watkins served as Michigan's state superintendent of schools from 2001 to 2005 and as president and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, Fla., from 1996 to 2001. He is a U.S.-China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at



Fri, Jul 6, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

I had four unpaid internships in Michigan. In many cases, I was doing full-timers' jobs for them, and in some cases, doing it better. The problem with unpaid internships is that they're contrary to how the rest of the working world operates--workers are paid as much they're valued. If I'm not paid--guess what? I can tell by that alone just how much the place I'm working for *really* values me. A pat on the head at the end of the day is nice, but not conducive to my progress as a professional, and not to your company, either. Theoretically, an internship should be intrinsically rewarding and educational, which is supposed to outweigh the part about not getting paid, right? But when interns don't have a staff title and don't have the pay, everyone else's expectations are lower, and then I don't even have a fair shot of getting the kind of work that would be beneficial. I never wanted to leave Michigan. I applied to hundreds of jobs in the metro Detroit area to no avail. Now I'm working full time in Chicago and contributing to a community I didn't grow up in, which is fine, but not preferable. The internship model is broken.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Why can't you leave well enough alone? I thought the picture was fine. Irrelevant, but fine. Well, sorta....


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

Nice going,, you are really punting this one. The front page still has the young woman with sheer blouse. This picture shows a young woman with a bare midriff and maybe her underwear showing. Is it really that hard to find a picture of a professional young woman?


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:31 a.m.

Appreciate that, Tony. Thanks for taking the bother on a holiday weekend.

Tony Dearing

Sat, May 26, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

The photo has been removed and an editor's note was added to the story acknowledging that.

A2 transplant

Sat, May 26, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Editors need to remove the current stock photo because it is almost as insulting.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 8:47 p.m.

Visible Bra!


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

Sorry, "Their" should be "They're". Mr. Watkins' article is being lost in the shuffle because of a silly photo.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

Their in the process of scrubbing this. The photo in the article is now changed and they just need to change the photo on the front page. Then both of these comments will disappear.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, May 26, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

The young man or woman graduates from college with a pile of debt and dreams of a future in which he/she can afford to live a decent life and pay off those college loans before retirement. Seems to me to be dirty pool to expect them to work for free or for a relative pittance just because the businesses can get away with it. Hard times should not be an excuse to rip off the young under the guise of providing experience.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

Unemployment remains high in Michiagn not due to lack of qualified candidates, but rather those candidates are not willing to play the game employers are playing. Employers are feeding off the desperation caused by the 08 recession and throwing a tainted hook and seeing who will bite, and to no ones surprise graduates aren't dumb eough to work for half of what their older counterparts made for the same position. As long as ultra conservative offers containing menial wages are the standard in Michigan, expect anyone with a brain to relocate to more progressive areas.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 1:53 p.m.

Please cite these "more progressive areas". Then factor in cost of living and get back to us...


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

Internships are nice, but how many interns are actually getting real jobs and staying in Michigan rather than heading for Chicago?