Carol Brzozowski 2016-01-13 13:43:12
The next generation in line to carry the mantle for distributed, renewable, and efficient energy solutions is in college. Internships are one way that private and public entities can train and identify the best and the brightest in the field. College students choosing to go into the energy field have a variety of internship choices that offer opportunities to decide what area is most appealing. Many internship programs are available year-round. Mary Shoemaker is both a former intern and the intern program coordinator for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington DC, which works to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. Founded by energy researchers in 1980, the organization conducts in-depth technical and policy analyses; advises policymakers and program managers; and works collaboratively with businesses, government officials, public interest groups, and other organizations. “During my internship, I was tasked with developing a newsletter to highlight the work of our utilities and our state and local policy teams, and inform my colleagues about policy developments across the United States,” she says, adding that she continues to have ownership of the newsletter project. Shoemaker also contributed research for ACEEE’s 2014 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, leading her to become a chapter author of the 2015 State Scorecard in her current role. “Internship programs provide work opportunities to people entering new fields: current students, recent graduates, or experienced professionals exploring a new line of work,” she says. “The duration of the typical internship—approximately three months—allows participants to gain experience without committing to an organization indefinitely.” The ACEEE sources interns by posting vacancies on its website as well on Idealist.org and college and university job sites. There are three internship cycles every year: spring, summer, and fall. The number of intern positions may vary, but there are typically three. “We do not offer the same internships every semester,” says Shoemaker. “Rather, teams that demonstrate a need for an intern for an upcoming project will apply for one.” Interns are paid according to their educational attainment. “We involve them in substantive research, so their valuable work is worthy of compensation,” says Shoemaker. Aside from the costs of paying the interns, the only additional expense is the cost of time spent facilitating monthly meetings and recruiting new interns, she adds. ACEEE works hard to ensure interns are provided ample opportunity for professional development and networking, says Shoemaker, and managers encourage their interns to attend educational events such as Capitol Hill briefings or local conferences. “In order to have an intern on their team, a staff member must demonstrate the availability of substantive work for such a position,” says Shoemaker. “ACEEE seeks interns to help with research activities, not administrative tasks. The organization benefits from interns’ analytical contributions, and interns benefit from the production of concrete, high-quality work products. Every semester we arrange for interns to have lunch with our executive director and director of research to ensure they have access to their colleagues at all levels of the organization.” An intern will conduct research, which varies according to the team on which they serve, such as state and local policy, federal policy, transportation, and industry, says Shoemaker. All interns are required to give a presentation to all staff on the projects they contributed to while at ACEEE. To address any issues that may arise, the organization works to promote interns’ awareness of each other’s projects by hosting a monthly meeting for updates, questions, and discussions of each team’s research activities, she adds. ASCO ASCO (Automatic Switch Company) Power Technologies, a business unit of Emerson Electric Company, manufactures and sells transfer switches, power control systems, and industrial control products for business-critical continuity. Headquartered in Florham Park, NJ, the company is the world's largest manufacturer of power transfer switches. “We are an engineering-oriented company, so we hire engineers,” says Bhavesh Patel, vice president, ASCO Power Technologies. That is one of the driving factors for an internship program at the company. “We have all of these projects that we don’t have enough time or enough resources to complete, so the interns fill that gap,” he says. “As we constantly grow, specifically on the engineering front, the talent pool is shrinking. This also allows us to gauge the talent pool before that talent pool becomes available. We have the first dibs when that talent pool is ready.” In turn, the interns have an opportunity to “experience the world that we offer them and see if that’s the world they like.” This is preferable “rather than hire a fresh graduate, put them through the paces and a year down the road, they find out that’s not the kind of work they like, and then we’ve lost a year,” adds Patel. “The interns get enough exposure over the two or three months and if that’s something that they like, they can tell us they’d like to be considered for future employment.” ASCO gives the interns projects “small enough so they can finish during summer, but meaningful enough so they can learn from it as well as add value to the organization,” notes Patel. The company will accept college freshmen, but in most cases, interns are in their junior year. Some are sourced from universities in New Jersey; a few come from out of state. Those who do come from a distance are given a stipend for housing. “We know if they have to pay out of their own pocket, they’re not going to come, so the housing is paid for,” notes Patel. Generally, interns make $10 per hour. ASCO has 12 interns this year in different disciplines such as electrical engineering and controls engineering. One was chosen for human resources. The number fluctuates. “If we only find three good interns that we think will fit into our world, that’s all we’re going to go with,” says Patel. “We just don’t want to have warm bodies and hope that somebody works out.” Aside from pay and housing stipends, there are indirect time-related costs to the company for operating the program, Patel notes. “There is the cost of on-boarding them even though they are only here for three months at the most,” he says. Early in the first week, the entire executive team—including the president and his staff—spends an hour talking to the interns about the company, about each individual’s goal and how they each came through the ranks. “That motivates them for what they can expect in their future,” says Patel. “People spend time training them and educating them, getting them up to speed so they can start to contribute even though we know they’re only going to be here for a few months, and then they’re going away.” Some internships may entail involvement in work sites and with customers. There may be personnel and logistics costs. Additionally, each intern is assigned a mentor. The return on the investment in terms of finding new hires has had a 52% success ratio, Patel says. Although there is no formal evaluation of intern performance, each manager or mentor ensures key performance expectations are met. “At the end of the program, each intern presents to the executive staff what they did, how it benefits the company, and how they liked the internship,” he says. “They are evaluated based on how they can deliver that message in front of senior staff. It allows us to gauge their skills in communication, analysis, and critical thinking.” Patel’s advice for companies wanting to set up an internship program is to be selective. “You need to find a person who is going to fit into your organization. When you start interviewing for an internship, everybody is interested. Some people are interested because they want to learn, others are interested because they just need a job. It’s very important for the company that they find somebody who is interested and willing to learn.” If the potential intern is not interested in the industry a company represents, “there’s no point bringing in that person. They may be the best engineer out there, but if what you do is not of interest, that’s not going to help you or the intern.” The engineering pool—especially in the electrical engineering segment—is declining, notes Patel. “Universities are not teaching electrical engineering partly because electricity has been around for 100 years, so what’s new? Students want to go into computers, which have only been around for 25 years, or want to go into the social media space.” He elaborates, “Electrical engineering is taken for granted. If you think about this, the world comes to a standstill without electricity. But that skill set is declining. There are more people fighting for those with that skill set, so it’s more important to have such an internship program so you get the right skill set.” NextEra NextEra Energy operates approximately 44,900 MW of generating capacity and has an extensive internship program. It has two principal subsidiaries: Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), Florida’s largest rate-regulated electric utility and NextEra Energy Resource which—with its affiliated entities—is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun. In 2014, the business reached wind production levels of more than 32 million MWh of generation. NextEra Energy Resources’ solar plants in California, New Mexico, Nevada, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada, operate approximately 700 MW of solar power. NextEra Energy also operates eight commercial nuclear power units in the United States. The company’s 2014 revenues totaled approximately $17.0 billion. Internships are a key factor in helping the company identify talent and helping students identify desired occupations in the industry. “Internships give students a chance to gain exposure to a corporate environment, prepare for a full-time career and confirm or modify their career aspirations,” says Neil Nissan, NextEra spokesperson. “From the company’s perspective, interns help us to stay abreast of any shifts in the emerging workforce, such as communication styles and what’s important to future candidates. Second, we are able to essentially ‘interview’ a prospective hire for two months, gaining insights into company fit, work ethic, and work capacity.” NextEra’s leadership team strongly supports mentorship and developing talent. “We firmly believe that our people are our strongest competitive advantage, and one way to strengthen the team is by ensuring a robust talent pipeline,” he says. “The overall goal of our internship program is to convert eligible and qualified interns to full-time hires. Throughout their summer with us, interns will develop an understanding of our operations, industry, and business challenges, while working on interesting and relevant projects and assignments.” To reach the company’s goal of cultivating new talent and testing candidates for future full-time spots, NextEra offers relevant work experience on challenging projects and assignments, says Nissan. Additionally, “interns participate in corporate events from lunch-and-learn sessions to individual skills training,” he says. “We host an alumni day so interns can network with employees who attended the same school. Interns also experience how the company engages with the community and gives back through our Power to Care program by volunteering one day at a local elementary school.” NextEra’s recruiting team attended more than 20 on-campus events and hired students from more than 50 major universities across the country. “We extend offers for full-time roles and next summer’s internships before interns finish their summer assignments,” says Nissan. All interns are paid, with market-based rates that vary according to the student’s year in school. NextEra partners with real estate agents and local universities to assist non-locally-based interns with finding places to stay. This year, NextEra has more than 200 interns, with many of them repeating from last year. They are placed in 29 business units, in a wide range of positions from engineer to wind technician to cyber security worker, says Nissan. The hiring managers are asked to assign each a buddy, says Nissan. “Additionally, Intern Ambassadors plan learning and skill development events specific to each intern’s business area. We have found that informal mentoring tends to have the biggest impact on an intern’s development. Those mentor-mentee relationships are normally forged within the immediate work groups.” Interns are evaluated by following the same Partners in Performance program as all of NextEra’s employees. The program is used to define goals, assess progress and collect constructive feedback. “Interns receive clear objectives at the beginning of the internship and are evaluated on at the close of the summer,” says Nissan. “Before leaving, interns present their summer projects to upper-level management.” The Department of Energy The US Department of Energy (DOE) offers a variety of internships, including some at the National Laboratories and field sites across the country. The Energy Department’s internship programs are aimed at developing and maintaining a diverse workforce, particularly in science and technology. Students work with leading scientists, engineers, and seasoned professionals to develop career skills and enhance leadership capabilities. The US DOE’s Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP) offers undergraduate and graduate students summer internship positions with the DOE and its National Laboratories with the goal of employing underrepresented students—such as females—in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. MEISPP positions involve scientific research or a focus on policy, business, and government relations. All internships include paid lodging, round trip airfare, and a stipend. Currently there are more than 80 MEISPP interns. The number of interns varies, and there are multiple internship programs across the department throughout the year. MEISPP has been expanded to include a lab-to-market component where students will spend 10 weeks at DOE national laboratories to participate in special “boot camps” to be trained in technology transfer, commercialization, and entrepreneurship. Sixteen students split between Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois work on developing intellectual property into commercialization packages consisting of technology plans, market assessments, commercialization plans, and associated due diligence documents. At the end of the 10-week program, teams participate in a special three-day pitch boot camp culminating with a pitch competition. The Community College Internship Program seeks to encourage community college students to enter technical careers relevant to the DOE’s mission by providing technical training experiences at the labs. Selected students participate as interns appointed at one of 15 participating DOE laboratories, working on technologies, instrumentation projects, or research. The Atlanta University Center Sustainable Campus Community Initiative is a collaborative effort involving Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College to support capacity building in the areas of alternative, renewable, and green energy technologies. The project’s goals include developing an energy/science portal site that will be available to all participating institutions’ students and faculty; creating an energy pipeline of students with the assistance of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) through a two-week High School Energy Summer Institute (HESI); and creating an Energy Stars Fellowship Program to attract talented students and employ them in energy research efforts at an Atlanta University Center or with a DOE laboratory. The Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program encourages undergraduate students to pursue STEM careers by providing research experiences at the DOE laboratories. Selected students participate as interns appointed at one of 15 participating DOE laboratories, performing research under the guidance of laboratory staff scientists or engineers on projects supporting the DOE mission. A Tale of Two Interns Lutron Michael Chen, a senior studying to be a mechanical engineer at the University of Central Florida, has spent the summer interning at Lutron. He applied for and received the internship after learning of it through a family friend. “I’m learning that lighting control is a whole deal more complicated than your basic on/off switches that you usually find or think of when using lights,” notes Chen. “Most of the information I’m learning deals with ways of controlling lighting systems autonomously while trying to save as much power as possible, which in turn saves money.” Lutron utilizes a variety of sensors such as infrared, ultrasound, and motion types. “This is primarily an electronics company, but I’m mainly helping to design the physical enclosures and user interfaces which these electronics go into,” says Chen. “It’s a very difficult job making sure parts fit together and stay within set tolerances.” Chen points out that most of what Lutron makes is with injected molded plastic such as polycarbonate. “That in itself has its own standardized specifications and guidelines that we engineers must adhere to,” he says. “I’m learning how engineering projects are put together and managed. Teamwork is extremely important in engineering practice. I more or less understand now why companies such as Lockheed need to hire thousands of engineers. It all can’t be done by a few people.” He says his internship means a lot to him. “It’s my first opportunity to gain real experience working with full-time industry veterans,” he says, adding that he believes it will open doors to more internships, and eventually, a career. “I don’t have any previous experience, so it has been difficult to obtain an internship in the past few years,” says Chen. “Having good connections with people is necessary if your resume is not impressive, which the case with me was.” Elliott Group Lauren Ruschak is a student at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park campus, enrolled in the Smeal College of Business, finishing an undergraduate degree in marketing. “I am currently a last semester senior,” she says, “which means that I am graduating in December, the day before my twenty-second birthday.” Last summer she interned for Elliott Group in Jeannette, PA, “which is right next to my hometown. I learned about the internship opportunity from a friend and applied through their website shortly thereafter. I was hired in the spring and began my internship in mid-May.” Ruschak’s experience makes a case for the value of non-engineering interns who may help bring insight about the energy sector to the general populous. “If you would have asked me just six months ago if I knew what a steam turbine generator was I would’ve stared at you with a very blank and confused expression. Now that I have worked with Elliott, I have gained a much better understanding of steam turbine generators and their role in the energy sector. Steam turbine generators play a much-needed part in steam systems by taking steam that would have otherwise been wasted and turning it into valuable onsite electricity. It saves the company money and increases plant efficiency as well—something that is vital to power production for any company today.” Ruschak also credits her summer as having given her valuable experience in the field of business-to-business marketing. “I have learned how to market to engineers as well as how to apply things that I learned in the classroom to my job. I also now know some of the ins and outs of corporate America, and can consider myself prepared for almost anything once I graduate. All of this is thanks to my internship here at Elliott. A special thanks is due to my boss, Scott Wilshire, for giving me the opportunity and helping me every step of the way.” Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to energy and technology.
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