How interns can help meet workforce needs

June 23, 2015 By and    

In the Know is a monthly partnership between LP Gas magazine and Propane Resources. Our focus this month is on women who work in the propane industry, addressed by financial consultant and business valuations and sales expert Tamera Kovacs.

Tamera Kovacs

Tamera Kovacs

Q. In our past discussions, you have mentioned the value of using interns and getting office help from other young people at Propane Resources. Can you explain why this is so important and where other propane industry companies can find this same type of help?

A. Finding good employees is a challenge for all organizations. Here at Propane Resources, part of our philosophy has always been “Hire Attitude, Train Skills.” While there is a certain base level that is required in many positions, hiring someone with a great attitude is critical. You can train skills, but you cannot train great attitude.

In 2009, we took a unique approach to growing our workforce to meet our changing needs. The company began investing in both high school and college students to help develop their business skills, as well as provide part-time or seasonal help for our business needs. The students involved in these paid internships are partnered with a full-time employee who manages their projects and provides mentoring. The interns are not limited to what they can contribute. Rather, they have the opportunity to grow, develop and contribute as much as they desire and are capable. Why place limits on talent? Harness and nurture that talent.

Hannah Copeland, a marketing intern, says she would describe the work environment at Propane Resources as “welcoming.” She adds she liked that she had autonomy and could come up with some of her own ideas, even in the beginning of her internship.

“I can remember feeling shocked and pleased that my supervisors valued my ideas and actually listened to me at the first few meetings as the new marketing intern,” Copeland says. “I believe internship programs should never set limits on their intern’s capacity to help the company.”

Propane Resources also connects with a local high school business-work program that allows students to leave school during the last two periods to work for a company to learn work skills. Sydney Stonehocker, involved in the high school business program, says her experience partnering with Propane Resources for the program inspired her to pursue an accounting degree in college.

“I came to Propane Resources with little accounting skills, but developed them along the way,” she says. “As I enter various business classes now, I feel that I have an advantage over my peers due to the experience I have earned being in the office.”

Propane retailers can develop and use similar programs within their company and community. Many high schools have business programs and vocational schools that can be a great asset for part-time or seasonal help. It is important to match a student’s skillset and future goals with the work scope to maximize the benefits to both the student and the company. By investing in local programs, you are both gaining help for special projects, as well as developing the next generation of the workforce.

“College tends to be a homogeneous environment,” Copeland says. “Internships allow students to develop communication skills necessary to succeed in a professional environment. Even the simplest of tasks of writing emails and approaching coworkers at their desk is scary if a student has never done it. Internships reduce anxiety of the unknown professional world by allowing students to see themselves function outside of a classroom.”

Hiring college interns allows you to take advantage of students’ education and their enthusiasm. The employer gets the benefit of the student’s education and the student benefits by putting theoretical knowledge into practice. Cooper Wilburn, a former college intern and now full-time employee with Propane Resources, says the internship helped him bridge the gap between “book work and the real world.”

“In school, you learn parts of the equation whereas the internship gave me the whole picture and how all those parts worked and flowed together,” Wilburn says. “Interning at the company gave me the ability to look at real-life examples on how companies operate and what gave each company its niche.”

When trying to find good employees, a company often has to take different approaches to the problem. If you cannot find employees that already have the skills that you need, perhaps developing an individual who has the initiative and desire is another option. While high school students and college interns cannot deliver propane or perform service work, there are many areas they can help when it comes to performing daily tasks or building long-term value.

Many companies struggle with the concept of spending time to develop an employee, especially a part-time or seasonal employee who may leave with time to “greener pastures.”

Instead of thinking of the loss, think about how you helped to mold the individual so they could take their career to the next level. You will learn as much from your employee as they will learn from you. And you never know, they may come back to the company in 10 years because they realized those pastures weren’t as green as they originally appeared. 

Tamera Kovacs is a financial consultant and industry expert in business valuations and sales with Propane Resources. She can be reached at tamera@propaneresources.com or 913-262-0196.

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