One of the biggest challenges facing Pensacola area business owners is finding talented young professionals, developing their skills and keeping them on board.
That is why the median workforce age and labor force participation rate are two of the metrics the Studer Community Institute measures as part of the Metro Dashboard, which aims to improve the quality of life in the community.
The challenge is just as great for college graduates in search of that first, career-launching job.
Seeing a need to connect local businesses with homegrown talent, Pensacola Young Professionals in 2007 launched what has become the successful 12-week Internship Pensacola Program. In the past eight years, the summer program, in conjunction with the University of West Florida, has placed nearly 100 interns with local businesses.
“Of all those who have graduated from the program, more than two-thirds were either hired by the company they interned with, or found career employment in the immediate area,” said Jonathan Thompson, past PYP president.
Thompson, a vice president with Thompson-Briggs Developers, said the program is being retooled this year and will return in 2016.
“We’ve taken this year to rework program and are focusing on getting it back up and running in 2016,” Thompson said.
Real world experience
One of those PYP intern program graduates is Jayme Gabes, with the accounting firm Saltmarsh Cleaveland and Gund in Pensacola.
“My PYP internship at Saltmarsh led to a full-time job with them,” said Gabes. “I’ve been with Saltmarsh since graduating from UWF in 2012, and recently I’ve taken on the role of marketing coordinator.”
Gabes currently is working alongside another graduate of the PYP internship program.
“The PYP intern program has worked particularly well in our marketing department at Saltmarsh,” Gabes said. “They have come to look at this program as a source to find talent.”
Modeled on an internship program developed by the Washington Institute, PYP recruits candidates for the program by going into classes at UWF and other area post-secondary academic institutions.
That is how Hannah Weinstein, marketing manager for Pensacola-based Pro Health, heard about the program.
“I thought it was awesome that they came to my class and talked about it,” she said. “I was really looking for a part-time job in the summer to gain some experience when I heard about the PYP Internship program.”
Weinstein spent her internship with Pro Health and was offered a part-time job while still at UWF. When she graduated last year, Pro Health offered her a full-time job.
“The PYP internship was beneficial because I was able to network and get out in the community,” Weinstein said. “It really helped in my personal and professional development.”
Johanna Pohlmann, who manages Landrum’s administrative/professional division, said internship experience is a plus for prospective job seekers.
“I think PYP interns are provided with good mentoring and skills training that help keep talented young professionals in Pensacola,” Pohlmann said.
‘Soft skills’ experience
In addition to the networking opportunities in 12-week paid internships, the program includes classroom time to help participants develop the soft skills many local business leaders say are lacking in the workforce.
During the summer, the class typically meets one night a week with a UWF professor or facilitator. Topics range from how to work with people of different generations and personalities; financial literacy and how to build a work portfolio and effectively market and present oneself in the business world.
“These evening classes have always been a really valuable part of the program, teaching these students the ‘soft skills’ they will need in the workplace,” Thompson said.
Sherry Hartnett, a consultant and UWF mentor for the PYP class, said they focused on topics that included refining communication skills, networking, leadership, how to work in teams, managing personal finances, doing practice interviews, and building their resumes and professional portfolios.
Hartnett says she coached the PYP interns on how to handle challenges they were facing in the workplace, including how to manage workloads and how to let a company know they would like to stay on past the internship and assume a full-time job.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding to see them blossom and be successful,” Hartnett said. “I look forward to seeing them become leaders in the Pensacola business community in the not too distant future.”
PYP also hosts several networking events during the summer that give participants a well-rounded experience.
“The networking events have been very successful,” Thompson said. “We’re finding a lot of young college students haven’t grasped the concept of networking.”
Even if the internship doesn’t lead to a full-time job, the experience is still valuable, said Chris Hill, PYP intern and former student government association president at UWF.
Hill spent his internship with IRIS, a local company that has developed a high-tech optical device for detecting retinopathy, a sight-impairing disease caused by diabetes. Though he intended to stay in Pensacola, he returned to his hometown of Tampa.
And he still got something important out of the internship.
“We had a lot of people come to our classes and talk to us about the hurdles and challenges we would expect to encounter in the workplace, and we heard other students about solutions to those problems,” Hill said. “So, ultimately, it was a really good growing experience for me.”