A Conversation on the Importance of STEM Talent and Internship Opportunities in Michigan

Courtney Overbey

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Building a tech talent pipeline is key to creating long-term economic prosperity in Michigan.

Christina York of SpellBound AR and Bill Mayer of Ann Arbor SPARK join the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Entrepreneurship and Innovation Portfolio Manager Maggie McCammon to discuss the newly launched "Michigan STEM Forward" internship program, the value of internship opportunities for businesses and how students and companies can get involved.

See below for excerpts and key insights from the conversation and watch the full 30-minute livestream to learn more.

Internship programs help companies reduce the risks involved with bringing on new talent.

Christina: Starting a company can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to kick things off. There are many challenges and finding talent shouldn't have to be one of the things that really bogs you down. With Spark and the internship matching program, we were able to find great Michigan-based talent, and it helped get our company off the ground and our product to market. The program has been able to secure us full-time employees that we still have today, leading our team.

The internship program was also a great way for us to reduce the risk involved of bringing on new talent as well, as we got to test talent out as paid interns first and could afford to take a chance on somebody that we thought had great potential.

We compete a lot for talent with big gaming companies on the West Coast, but something to note is that there are a lot of great companies in Michigan. Through the program, we’ve managed to keep engineers and artists in the area and have been able to teach them how to be successful and build their careers locally. We want to be able to have an opportunity to tap into that talent pool and show students the endless opportunities that await them.

With the global competition for skilled talent growing, small businesses in Michigan can find the workforce they need in their own backyard.

Bill: Just to frame this in the context of the larger economy, there's a crunch for STEM talent nationally, if not globally. It’s really encouraging to have the opportunity, especially if you’re a smaller business, to tap into your own backyard for talent. It’s an advantage to meet students and show them the many opportunities available within the technology sector.

Christina: Absolutely. There are many positions we hire for in the technology field that students may not think of as technology roles, like musicians, artists and designers. Michigan has some wonderful programs—some of the best in the country for creative studies. Eastern Michigan has an awesome 3D-animation program, for example. Many students just don’t have a full picture of where else they could go, which is why exposing our company to a lot of students and educating the intern market provides opportunities for all of us.

The Michigan STEM Forward program connects college students with startups to empower and grow Michigan’s STEM talent field.

Maggie: The Michigan STEM Forward program will provide internship opportunities for college students throughout the state who are interested in studying STEM sectors. Creating more STEM jobs in the state is crucial to the success of Michigan's economy. Bill, can you tell us more about Ann Arbor SPARK and exactly what this wonderful new program is?

Bill: My team works to provide many services to our companies. One core service we’ve been offering in Ann Arbor for the past 10 years is a matching program, where our client companies have the opportunity to take on an intern beyond the budget that they have available. We match startups, dollar for dollar, up to a cap of $3,000 for a full-time intern and $1,500 for a part-time intern. The objective is to encourage our companies to take advantage of the excellent labor resource of our talented STEM students at our local state universities.

The program has been very successful thus far, with 84 percent of participating students, post-graduation, still working in Michigan today in their desired professional field. To that end, we wanted to scale this success statewide and have been able to do that with this new program, thanks to MEDC’s funding. This program is allowing us to take the best practices we've learned in Ann Arbor and make it available across the entire state of Michigan. Christina is a great example of a company we’ve worked with, and she has really been able to leverage the internship opportunity within her startup company, SpellBound.

Michigan’s STEM community is rich and full of opportunities for students and businesses alike.

Maggie: Bill, where can people learn more information on this program, and how can they get started?

Bill: As an economic development professional, and certainly in the entrepreneurship space, it's important to ensure that what we’re already doing is visible to students and companies across the state. This summer, we are going into universities with our local partners, like MEDC, and showcasing what great companies, like SpellBound, are doing in Michigan, and that there are opportunities with them.

If a student is interested, they can go to our website: annarborusa.org. At the top of the page, there's a link for jobs, which will give you an option to click on Michigan STEM Forward. There, all the information for both companies and students is available, as well as the student submission form, which is live now.

Maggie: Once an intern becomes part of this entrepreneurial ecosystem, they will become exposed to many other opportunities. If you're applying for a technology job within Michigan, having an insider reference from a Michigan company and someone like Christina will be huge in getting you your next job and promotion.

Christina: This program is a great way to connect with such a rich community full of opportunity. It’s an opportunity for students and recent graduates to work with a passionate employer that is excited about helping people entering the job force evolve their skills and finding a way to make a difference.

To learn more about this program and other STEM opportunities in Michigan, please visit michiganbusiness.org/workforce.

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