Dakota Jones was a North Side High School junior when he took an advanced manufacturing and logistics class that toured Press-Seal Corp.
Jones eventually went to work at Press-Seal through Conexus Indiana’s Interns Program, and now the 19-year-old high school graduate has become a full-time employee at the company.
He’s one of the student success stories through Conexus, which launched a pilot intern program in 2015 in central and north-central Indiana. The program expanded statewide this year.
Conexus, which focuses on workforce development in advanced manufacturing and logistics and other initiatives, is recruiting now for the 2017 program. Conexus said 230 Indiana high school students interned this summer at 79 Indiana companies, a 170 percent increase from the pilot year.
Nine Allen County companies, including Fort Wayne Metals, Ottenweller Co., Dana Holding Corp. and BAE, participated in this year’s program and had 23 paid high school student interns.
"The six-week summer internships include real-world work experience at an advanced manufacturing or logistics company and group activities that introduce students to career and postsecondary education opportunities," Tracey Everett, Conexus Interns Program manager, said in a news release.
The program was designed with the help of industry leaders and matches students with a paid internship. The work experience is hands-on and often includes opportunities for students to work closely with company employees to learn more about opportunities in Indiana’s largest industry sector.
The intern program has several funders, including Lilly Endowment and Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow.
Results have underscored the impact of the program, Everett said. Eighty percent of the 2016 Conexus Interns Program students said their internship changed their perceptions of advanced manufacturing and logistics and that they were more likely to pursue a career in that field; 62 percent of the students said the experience impacted their post-high school plans; and 95 percent found the experience valuable.
Companies are also seeing the benefit of connecting to high school students who could become future employees.
The program helps companies and exposes students "to different opportunities they may not be aware of in the work force," said Doug Krebs, operations manager at Press-Seal.
Joyce Moran of Ottenweller Co. said the program exceeded the company’s expectations.
"Our intern was very mature and intelligent. He took instructions well, and his experience level was above what we are seeing in many full-time candidates," Moran said in a statement.
Companies work with Conexus to select interns. The students are vetted by their instructors and demonstrate proficiency in advanced manufacturing logistics courses, demonstrate skills and interest in a career in the field, according to Claudia Cummings, vice president Workforce and Education for Conexus Indiana.
Jones, the former student intern, is learning tool and die making at the company, a designer and manufacturer of water-tight seal products for underground. He expects to eventually become a journeyman in the craft and also to earn an associate degree in machine tool technology at Ivy Tech Community College.
The intern program was a good initial experience.
"Start with an internship and get to know the company a little bit," Jones said.
At North Side, students can learn about manufacturing in hire tech or project lead the way classes during the school year to be considered for the intern program.
Phil Springer teaches the hire tech curriculum at North Side.
The Conexus interns program is "a very good program to introduce students to these types of jobs and these educational pathways," said Springer, who has 30 years of manufacturing experience.
High school students learn about some of the common processes and machines manufacturers use, including computer numerical controls, such as lathes and mills, he said.
Because of labor laws for those younger than 18, the students don’t operate all of the machines they may learn about, such as forklifts and metal-shearing equipment. But the exposure gives them a head start.
"I have a number of students walking right out of high school into good-paying jobs," Springer said.
Scotty Hepler, recruiting manager with Buchanan Trucking & Rigging in Fort Wayne, said this was the first year the company participated in the Interns Program.
He interviewed six students before the company chose Mary Bleakney, 17, from New Tech Academy at Wayne High School as its intern. Bleakney, whose classes at Wayne have included an introduction to engineering, had just completed her sophomore year and was 16 when she interned.
"We got a great employee for the six weeks, and we got her into the different facets of the company," Hepler said. "She spent time with dispatch, safety, brokerage and recruiting departments."
The exposure to the brokerage side of the business showed Bleakney about the sales aspects, including the importance of making connections and building relationships. She spent a day and a half in each department.
"I would definitely recommend it," Bleakney said. "It helped me see what the work life would be with having a job."