Internship experience makes a difference

It’s one thing to learn the principles of conducting a wage survey in a Human Resources class at Blackhawk Technical College. It’s entirely different to actually conduct a wage survey outside the classroom.

That was Michelle Lomax’s experience last spring when she was an eight-hour a week intern at Community Action Inc. of Rock and Walworth counties. That’s also an experience shared by more than 150 other students at Blackhawk who served internships with local businesses during the school year by putting to use what they were learning in the classroom in a business environment.

“I was able to speak with community leaders at various locations,’’ Lomax recalled about doing the wage survey of local non-profit organizations like Community Action. “It added value to what I had learned in the classroom.

“I was able to work in the field of my career choice and actually conduct work as if I had been hired as a Human Resources assistant. My supervisor (Katie Lawler) had so much confidence in me that she was willing to give me a task that will be of great value to the organization in the future." 

Lawler is the HR director of Community Action who reached out to BTC HR instructor Beth Chambers about finding a student for an internship.

Contacting individual instructors is one way local employers find interns. The other is to work through the internship office in BTC’s Student Success Center. Either way is valuable to local employers looking to provide basic training in exchange for BTC students looking to enhance their educations.

“In the classroom, students are working with theories, ideas and doing research on different subjects,’’ Lawler said.  “In this kind of setting, it’s not that black and white. It gets you to look at things differently than you might in a classroom.’’ 

Providing a skilled and educated workforce is at the core of Blackhawk’s mission to its district, so the school’s internship program is a natural fit to that philosophy. BTC experienced a nine percent increase in internships from the fall to spring semester last school year. BTC’s goal is to increase internships by 20 percent.

“The college’s goal is to prepare a qualified workforce that meets the region’s needs, and internships is one way to introduce that future workforce to area employers,’’ said Kerry Osmond, BTC’s point person for internships.

“Interns bring in fresh ideas and new talent to the workplace. Businesses are finding an increasing need to find a skilled workforce, and internships give them a chance to test drive talent. It’s also a way for both Blackhawk and businesses to give back to the community.’’

Osmond reported increasing interest from area manufacturers for interns, an indication of the impact of BTC’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Milton is having. Interest also remains strong in the Business Management and Information Technology areas, traditionally strong areas for interns.

Lawler, who attended Blackhawk and studied in the Supervisory Management program, said Community Action values the contributions interns bring and is considering the possibility of adding an intern in its finance department.

Lomax, who is continuing her internship this semester at four hours a week, received a broad view of the HR functions in a non-profit organization last spring. In addition to the wage survey, Lomax said she coordinated new employee orientations, updated payroll reports and provided a variety of employee benefits services.

“I am so glad I chose this internship,’’ Lomax said. “This experience has given me so much knowledge of what to expect in the job world.’’

Lawler echoed Lomax’s feelings.

“We have seen the advantages of internships,’’ she said. “I know that some organizations look at four-year schools, but we have seen the advantages of a technical school education and those who are working toward one- and two-year degrees.

“I’ve had a great experience working with Blackhawk Technical College. We really appreciate the willingness of the school and the students to look into our organization. In the future, we will continue to look at Blackhawk for its interns.’’