Workforce Crisis: Intern Program Steers Students Into Utility Careers

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

"We recognized that a lot of kids don't necessarily want to pursue a four year degree but want to learn a trade that will provide good wages and benefits," said Jim Hewitt, Sewer Maintenance superintendent. "And we also realized that utility work is not a consideration of many students when they are choosing careers."

The first year, Hewitt said, five students applied for the program, and three were accepted. All three were hired full time after completing the program and graduating from high school.

In 2007, there were 11 applicants, and four entered the program. Hewitt said the city is working on creating positions for students in the 2008 class and that they are being retained on a temporary basis while the next class of interns begins work.

"In May 2008," said Hewitt, "12 students expressed interest in the program, and submitted applications. Three interns have been hired with plans to add a fourth.”

"We are very pleased with the program," he continued. "We have not had a lot of success recruiting employees through regular channels, and the intern program is providing new employees. We expect these employees to be the future of our utility and look forward to helping them advance their careers within the bureau."

Intern qualifying

To qualify for the intern program, applicants must have completed their junior year of high school, have a valid Ohio driver's license, and a knowledge of basic plumbing, electrical and mechanical drive maintenance and safety procedures. The students in the intern program come from plumbing or carpentry programs provided by the Akron Public Schools. Once they have been selected, the city provides all of the specialized training to make a seamless transition into the workforce. They must be able to perform strenuous and repetitive physical tasks, are expected to work outside in inclement weather, follow verbal and written instructions and work well with other personnel.

"An Akron Water Supply's intern reports directly to the plant engineer and obtains unique exposure with drinking water supply engineering related activities," Hewitt explained. "This includes completing tasks related to equipment evaluation/diagnosis, organization of plant engineering records and plan preparation assistance. An intern also periodically assists maintenance staff with preventative and reactive maintenance activities including cleaning, lubrication, equipment adjustments and repairs. The intern is also available to assist with landscaping activities including mowing, weed whipping and snow removal."