IMPERIAL — For high school graduates and college students seeking jobs, a barrier to meaningful employment is oftentimes lack of experience.
To help such individuals obtain the experience they need to join the workforce, the Imperial Regional Alliance, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 2011, offers the Route to Employability Internship-to-Career Program. IRA is a subsidiary of Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.
“This initiative is in place in order to fill that gap in the workforce,” Itzel Moncado, IVEDC financial analyst and intern program coordinator told Imperial Valley Press Thursday morning. “On the workforce end, they are not willing to commit financially to somebody who might not be experienced. Employees tell me they need experience, and employees are telling me they need workers with experience.”
The program’s main goal is to provide high school grads and college students with the training they need to enter the local workforce, Moncado said, but interns of all ages are considered for placement, she said.
“Of course, we are open to other interns, but that is the bridge we are trying to fill — students that are either in school or barely graduating and who want to join the workforce.”
The interns are not paid by IRA, but may receive a stipend or even hourly pay by one of the about 10 local companies currently participating in the program, Moncado said.
“Compensation depends on the host company. There are companies who pay our interns hourly. We have companies who pay a stipend at the end of their internship, so basically it just depends on what the company is comfortable with and basically the bottom line is that we want these students to be hired.”
Since the program was launched about 2.5 years ago, there have been about 25 interns successfully complete it, Moncado said.
“All of the students who have completed the 160 hours have been offered a job, so our success rate as of right now is 100 percent.”
Moncado, 24, of Calexico, herself began as an intern in the program and was later hired on by IVEDC. Another intern, Victor Ramirez, 23, of El Centro, also began as an intern and has been hired on as a marketing and administration assistant by IVEDC.
Ramirez began his internship in March. He is a recent graduate of California State University, Channel Islands, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business. He completed his internship through IRA in June.
Even with a college degree, Ramirez said he lacked real world experience before the internship.
“I had educational knowledge to back up what I know and to move forward in business; however, the administrative skills — marketing and accounting — I have gained here have helped me move forward now to become more well-rounded in a lot of areas of business,” he said. “Instead of focusing on one, my goal is to become more rounded in knowing how an organization functions.”
Ramirez ultimately wants to operate an independent business of his own.
“I would like to start here (at IVEDC) so that I can at least know how business works on multiple levels,” he said. “I have learned a lot of skills in terms of marketing and accounting to give me a better sense of how to promote the business to the public.”
Ramirez encourages other high school and college students to participate in the program.
“It is a very interesting program,” he said. “I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for academic credit as a continuing student or for anyone who is a recent graduate looking for work and who needs employment skills. This is a great opportunity to look into.”
The program is open not only to local students, but students from across the country and abroad.
From across the sea
Tan Gao, 24, of Jiangsu Province, China, as of today has completed the internship program and will now return to Brigham Young University in Utah to finish his bachelor’s degree in business.
“The stuff you learn in school is very limited,” he said. “Basically, all your studies are in the book. In this program, you can participate in real business activities, and [it] will bring you a whole image of how the [process] works. Especially in this county, there is more stuff to learn than in other places. This county is developing a lot of resources, such as solar, geothermal, wind and agriculture.”
Gao’s internship focused on business development, and he worked with Sean Wilcock, IVEDC vice president of business development, on various projects.
Back in Jiangsu Province — located in the northeastern coastal region of China along the Yellow Sea, with the Yangtze River passing through the southern part of the province — Gao’s father works in the solar panel industry, while his mother works in local government. He said they have helped pay for his education in America and added he is hoping to find a job in the states after graduation.
“I want to work in America for a while,” he said. “I am an accounting major, but I don’t want to limit myself to being an accountant. That is why I have explored all kinds of different areas. There are a lot of things to learn because you know nothing besides a little bit of numbers. For example, battery storage, that involves electricity and engineering. Agriculture involves chemistry because they use fertilizer. There is a lot I needed to learn.”
Gao started out wanting to become a certified public accountant, but has since expanded his horizons, he said.
“He has gotten so much exposure as to what he can do with hands-on accounting,” Moncado said. “It is not so particularly straight with numbers.”
The Internship-to-Career Program is funded through various sources, Moncado said.
“We recently received a grant from AT&T,” she said. “We also have received in the past grants from local banks. And, of course, host companies do have to pay a fee of $1,000. Sometimes that fee is waived or reduced, depending on the company.”
Fee reduction is accomplished with a partnership through the Imperial County Workforce Development Office’s on-the-job training program funded through the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act. Under WIOA, a business that provides internships may be eligible for reimbursement if the intern receives knowledge or skills essential to the full and adequate performance of the job for which they are training.
The $1,000 fee secures two interns, Moncado said.
“This would be a good investment as you are able to try them out before you hire them and train them,” she said.