MORRIS – The best and brightest of Grundy County high school students gathered Monday at the Employee Communication Center at LyondellBasell. The breakfast kicked off the summer internship program organized by Grundy County Economic Development.
“I’m a big proponent of this program,” Coal City School District 1 Superintendent Kent Bugg said. “We want to keep the best and brightest kids in Grundy County.”
Bugg described how the program began, when on a tour of Chicago Aerosol he heard executives say they couldn't fill positions for chemists.
“I knew kids in college working on chemistry degrees, that if they knew there were jobs in their hometown they might come back,” he said.
Through connections with students and industry, Bugg said he was able to help fill one of those positions.
It was not an isolated incident, however. Many talented students graduated high school, left Grundy County for college, and then went to work elsewhere.
This year is the sixth year of the program. It began with four internships, and was successful enough that it doubled to eight internships the following year.
This year, there are 37 interns and 15 companies participating. For the first time, the village of Channahon and Grundy County took on an intern to learn the inner workings of local government.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, on hand to introduce the interns and a supporter of the program from the beginning, said that running a municipality is like running a business.
Rezin said that when she began as state senator, she toured her district to map the resources of the area – and found that Grundy County lies both on an energy corridor, with nuclear plants and renewable energy farms creating energy, and on a chemical corridor with several chemical manufacturing plants.
“These facilities create good-paying jobs,” Rezin said.
She said the chemical plants in the area have invested about $500 million in the area in recent years.
On that initial tour, she also learned that plant managers were worried about retaining their workforce. Many of their workers were nearing retirement age, and finding skilled employees was becoming difficult. The GEDC internship program is helping to fix that issue.
It’s not just manufacturing firms participating in the program. Morris Hospital has eight interns this year, working in sectors such as pharmacies, surgical nursing, rehab services and human resources.
Michelle Smith with the hospital's human resources team, is confident the students who come to her program will work out.
“They always impress,” Smith said.
Some students return to the program for multiple years. Sage Reische of Morris is beginning her second summer as an intern for U.S. Cold Storage in Minooka.
However, Abby Rohrbaugh, with the firm’s human resources office, said Reische never really left.
“She keeps coming back on breaks,” Rohrbaugh said.
Reische said she enjoys working with the company and has had a variety of experiences.
“They give me a little bit of everything to do,” she said. “They keep me busy.”
Other industries represented include accounting firms, tool and
die shops, surveyors, medical and banking.
The students are chosen through a competitive process, but even those who don’t get hired can get valuable experience. GEDC asks that interviewers point out any mistakes that the student make in both the interview and on their résumé.
Nancy Norton, president and CEO of GEDC, said this is an opportunity for the students if they use the time well.
“Please take advantage of this summer,” Norton said. “Ask questions.”
To demonstrate the type of work students will be doing over the summer, Rezin recalled a story from the first year when the plant manager at the LyondellBasell facility took the budget and set it down on an intern's desk their first day. He told the intern to find a way to save him $3 million a year by the end of the summer.
“And she did it,” Rezin said.
Bugg was certain the students in
the front rows were up to any task given.
“These kids in front of you have a work ethic like you’ve never seen before,” he said.