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Forging a future: Internship program benefits local students and industries

DENVER – Diligence in the classroom and high marks on exams will always appeal to prospective employers, but experience in the field is often the deciding factor when sifting through job applications. For college students returning home between semesters, the summer internship program offered through the Industrial Managers Association of Lincoln County (IMA) is an opportunity to get a foot in the door.

Nick Wooten uses a microscope in KACO’s quality control lab to examine one of the seals manufactured for the automotive industry at the Lincoln County plant

The IMA is an active membership of local industry leaders whose mission is to develop an alliance among existing industries, area schools and elected officials by providing the information and tools needed to support manufacturing in Lincoln County. The group launched its summer internship program in 2012, offering opportunities to at least 10 students annually, including North Lincoln High School graduate Nick Wooten, who parlayed his summer at KACO into a full-time job after graduating from college.

“I was looking for an internship, but I was struggling to get any calls back,” Wooten said. “That’s when I sent my application to the Lincoln Economic Development Association (LEDA), who passed it along to the manufacturing companies here in Lincoln County, and I think I received four phone calls within two days.”

LEDA, which played a key role in recruiting many of the companies that fill Lincoln County’s business and industrial parks, acts as a clearinghouse for the summer internship candidates, distributing resumes to the companies that make up the IMA.

LEDA connected Wooten with KACO, a Germany-based manufacturer of sealing solutions for the automotive industry with a production facility in the Lincoln County Industrial Park. Wooten then spent the summer working in several different departments to become well-versed in the facility’s operations.

“This company looks big from the outside, but inside we’re actually a little bit smaller, so I was able to gain experience doing a lot of different things during my internship,” Wooten said. “I worked in quality control most of the time, which consisted of writing reports for customers and inspecting parts under our microscopes, as well as learning about all the different machines like measurement machines and things like that. I was also able to help out in production, where they look into new ways to improve their manufacturing processes.”

After his trial run through the summer internship program, KACO offered Wooten a full-time position as a quality engineer, and he now works as a project manager in his sixth year with the company.

“For me, this internship was the best way to get my foot in the door,” Wooten said. “I saw many friends complete internships while they were in school, and in my experience those are the people who get jobs the quickest. Even if you’re not hired by the same company you interned with, having someone’s word saying that you’re able to do a job speaks many more words than your resume does. This internship was honestly the best thing that could have happened for me because it gave the company an opportunity to evaluate me, which ultimately led to me getting a full-time job.”

The summer internship program not only benefits students by allowing them to build their resume through hands-on experience, but it also benefits the companies that make up the IMA, which are hoping to develop a local talent pool to draw from.

“The IMA is committed to the development of college students from Lincoln County, as evidenced by our continued support of the summer internship program,” Robert Bosch Tool Corp. Location Director and former IMA chair David Lee said in a press release advertising the program. “Manufacturing companies get valuable service from eager participants while providing hands-on experience to the students, which is invaluable when searching for a full-time position. The intern initiative is another chance to showcase Lincoln County businesses and the opportunities we provide for all our citizens.”

Any current student who has finished their sophomore year of college or is nearing the completion of an associate degree and lives in Lincoln County is eligible to submit a cover letter and resume for consideration. Submissions should be sent to john@lincolneda.org by April 20.

While LEDA fields and distributes the applications, those selected for the interview process will be contacted directly by the company. Compensation and summer employment dates will then be determined by the company and student.

“This program is becoming more important than ever,” LEDA Existing Business Manager John Dancoff said. “Our industries are facing employment challenges on every level. The targets for this specific program are the more specific and advanced positions.

“I’m aware of instances where the search for a needed professional has taken several years, ultimately requiring recruiting from out of state. With the quality of our local education system and the great university system of North Carolina, we want to develop this talent from within and keep it here.”