COLUMN: Internship program seeks to retain college graduates

— There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how our region can retain our talent. One way vested community members and employers can assist is through working directly with colleges. One venue that provides a virtual terminal is a program called Project-ION. This is an internship program managed by CenterState CEO (Corporation for Economic Opportunity) that pairs interns with employers.

Project-ION, in conjunction with CenterState CEO, was developed in 2006 as a tool for talent retention. The program reports that over the last two years, it saw a dramatic dip in the number of businesses offering internships. Recently, businesses expressed a greater need for interns. This is a good sign in our regional economy and hopefully means that more are hiring.

Project-ION recently hosted its first “virtual flash mob” to celebrate its revival in the beginning of September. More businesses posted their fall 2012 and spring 2013 internship opportunities and organizers wanted to spread the word about how they can serve to better connect employers with prospective interns.

There are nearly 140,000 students who study in the region each year. Project-ION lists internships from all over the region and gives employers access to a database of interns. It reaches 21 counties, 48 colleges and universities and more than 200,000 regional college students across the region. More than 200 employers participate and there are 2,500 registered students.

According to its organizers, we can’t afford to wait until students graduate to try to attract them to staying. If we want to successfully raise our retention rate, we must demonstrate that there are quality opportunities here. We must do so while students are in school. Project-ION does this by facilitating the relationship between businesses and students. Currently, college graduate retention rate is at 4 percent in our region. The average college graduate retention rate is 8 percent. Project-ION hopes to increase that retention rate to at least the national average.

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