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GVSU Career Center Helping Retain Local Talent Through Employer Internship Trainings

March 09, 2022

GVSU Career Center Helping Retain Local Talent Through Employer Internship Trainings

By: Jacob DeWeerd

One of the most important parts of every college student’s educational journey is their first real-world work experience. For many students, that experience comes in the form of a co-op, internship or other types of experiential education. To ensure students in West Michigan have access to internships/experiential education in their local communities, the GVSU Career Center and the West Michigan Internship Initiative (WMII) have been providing free internship training sessions to local employers since 2008.

The WMII was started by non-profit organization Hello West Michigan and consists of representatives from GVSU, Hope College, Aquinas College, Davenport University, Cornerstone University, and Calvin University. These six schools work together to host monthly training sessions that teach local employers all about internships and how to attract and retain students in the West Michigan area.

“Internships are an investment in employers’ future talent,” said Employer Relations Coordinator Kristie Scanlon. 

Keeping talent local is a main focus of the WMII. Back when the project started in 2008, many students were leaving West Michigan to pursue internships and work opportunities elsewhere. 

“At that time, there was a brain drain,” said Employer Development Manager Cindy Brown. “A lot of our college students were not seeing opportunities right here in the local area, so they would graduate and then feel that they had to leave the area.”

To prevent this phenomenon from getting worse, the West Michigan colleges and universities that now make up the WMII banded together to develop a training program.

“We had an advisory group which was made up of the same group of colleges, non-profit companies, for-profit companies, small, mid-sized, large companies, and we all came together and said okay, this is what we need to do and this is why we need to do it,” Brown said.

Training sessions are held on a monthly basis, with each school stepping up to host a few events each year. Employers can send representatives to attend in-person events or, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual or hybrid sessions. Regardless of which format the event is held in, the WMII is prepared with a slew of information options to offer employers.

“It's different for every employer and it's different at every university, so it can be challenging to create just one process that will work for every student or employer,” Scanlon said. “To me, this is an opportunity to make the experience unique for each student..”

Despite the differences in employers and students, some aspects of a well-run internship are consistently applicable and are taught at every training session. Employers always learn about the myriad benefits of having interns, how to allocate responsibilities and projects to interns, and the kinds of experience interns can get from working directly with an organization. 

Thankfully, the world of internships has evolved quite a bit over the years. Gone are the days of interns doing menial office tasks like filing documents or grabbing coffee for their supervisor. The internships of today are more advanced and focus on giving students the opportunity to do real work.

“If someone had worked with an intern years ago, it's totally different than it used to be,” Brown said. “There were horror stories way back in the day about accounting interns just sharpening pencils, right? That's so far past from where internships are currently..”

The WMII aims to make internship training sessions as accessible as possible for employers of all sizes, so each monthly session is put on for free. In the eyes of the organization, these events are just as much of an investment in local talent as employers offering paid internships is.

“For West Michigan to grow, we need to have a good pipeline,” Brown said. “That's where you go first to retain your talent. That's why we offer these trainings for free because we want employers to take part in internship opportunities.”

While the benefits of the training sessions for employers are obvious, other groups are also seeing the positive effects of the WMII investing their time and efforts into bettering the internship experience in West Michigan. Those groups include students and the broader West Michigan community.

“More opportunities are being created for students to engage in experiential learning by employers who are offering internships and completing this training,” Scanlon said. “The end result is a stronger internship experience for students, which has a positive impact on the student and the broader community too.”

Between declining birth rates, lower numbers of high school graduates, and the appeal of other cities all over the country, keeping people in West Michigan is a focus. While the results of the WMII’s efforts have been positive so far, Scanlon and Brown know that they need to keep working hard to ensure local students are able to find work in West Michigan. 

“Over half of the students that intern stay at that company. However, those that aren’t hired have gained the skills and experience that will make them a great candidate for another West Michigan organization,” said Brown. “People aren't going to stay the whole time at one company anymore, they're going to move around. So it's good for them to really see the different opportunities that are here.”

The next employer internship training session is being hosted by Calvin University on March 23. More information about training sessions, including instructions for signing up, can be found at


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Page last modified March 9, 2022