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Viewpoint: Businesses can make Delaware the First State for internships

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By Scott Malfitano, Mark Hutton and Dan Freeman
Guest Columnists

This column summarizes one of the winning ideas at the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware 2018 competition in early December. This is the third in a series of articles sharing the top ideas.

It’s no secret that we’ve entered an era of rapid and fundamental economic change. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the U.S. could lose up to 73 million jobs to automation by 2030. While planned retirements and retraining programs will help some individuals and businesses weather the storm, the transition to the machine age will be characterized by widespread upheaval. This raises fundamental questions for Delaware.

How do we ensure that Delaware continues to be a great place to conduct business and thrives as an economy that features growth and exciting opportunities? Given that companies are competing for talent, how do we position ourselves relative to fast-growing neighbors like Cecil County (Maryland), Delaware County and Chester County (Pennsylvania) to successfully attract and retain the kinds of highly skilled, adaptive talent that will be in increasingly high demand?

Over the past several years, we have been working with various groups – including the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, Delaware Business Roundtable, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and others – to answer these questions and enhance the performance of Delaware’s economic engine. The goal is to increase the availability of innovative human capital so that all companies, from startup companies to larger companies recruited to our great state, have access to the talent needed to enable success.

We’ve made three observations that highlight an urgent need for collective action to improve talent acquisition and retention in Delaware.

“¢ First, we’ve directly experienced challenges in filling new economy jobs like data scientists and technologists.

“¢ Second, we’ve heard almost every company being recruited to Delaware asks about the composition of
our workforce and availability of human capital needed to make their businesses grow.

“¢ Third, we’ve witnessed the exodus of homegrown talent to out-of-state opportunities. Notably, more than two of every three graduates from the University of Delaware moves out of state to take their first job.

As Delawareans, we’ve all heard of the “Delaware Way.” Between our amazing access to state leaders and our congressional delegation, to the three or fewer degrees of separation between almost everyone in the state, Delawareans have a unique capacity to work together to solve important problems. We are collaborative, nimble, and creative. Let’s use these distinct advantages to deepen our talent pool and position the state to thrive amidst disruptive change.

Let’s make Delaware the No. 1 destination for internships as a means of improving access to talent and building the collective bench strength that will empower our economy and local companies to succeed in the war for talent.

We can start by doing more to fully leverage our individual resources. For example, last year CSC received nearly 1,400 applications for 28 slots in our summer internship program. What if we’d collaborated with other Delaware employers by helping to find opportunities for the 1,350-plus eager young professionals who we were not able to hire? And what if other major Delaware employers did likewise to maximize the total number of internship placements?

According to surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers from 2014 to 2018, the vast majority of these interns (more than three out of every four) would have accepted full-time employment in Delaware if it had been offered.

We can do more to utilize our collective resources to deliver a high value internship “product” – Intern Delaware – which no other state will be able to replicate. For example, we could use our connectivity to create an Intern Delaware program that involves rotations across two or more companies. Imagine working for 30 days with M&T and the next 30 with CSC, or 30 days with Chemours and the next 30 with Gore.

Such a program should appeal to talented interns who wish to explore a variety of companies, industries and interests as they make critical decisions about where to accept employment, and where to build their careers.

We can also build Intern Delaware into a service that would help smaller and medium-sized employers establish internship programs. It takes a significant investment of time and resources to properly establish job responsibilities for an intern, execute a search process, onboard a new hire, and provide ongoing training and supervision. Those of us who have learned a few “how to’s” (and more than a few “how NOT to’s”) could work together to develop a service offering that would enable companies to efficiently realize the many benefits of a robust internship program.

We already have some building blocks in place. This could accelerate the work already underway with the Delaware Pathways program that connects more than 12,000 high school students statewide to advanced training and meaningful work-based experiences.

Lastly, we can build Intern Delaware as a unique value-adding program that would draw on key components from the Leadership Delaware Institute. Specifically, we can bring interns from all Delaware employers together for leadership, skill-building and networking activities that connect the interns with their peers as well as the people and destinations that make our state a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.

Regardless of which form Intern Delaware ultimately takes, the time to act is now. There is real and compelling need. We are excited to be working together to build Intern Delaware as a self-sustaining public-private partnership. Contact us if you’d like to be involved in building it the Delaware Way.

Scott Malfitano is a vice president at Corporation Service Co. (CSC) in Wilmington; Mark Hutton is senior group manager and group vice president at M&T Bank in Wilmington; and Dan Freeman is director of Horn Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware.

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