Since he took office in 2019, Governor DeWine has consistently prioritized work-based learning and workforce development. In conjunction with the legislature, his team has launched initiatives like the Innovative Workforce Incentive Program (IWIP), which provides funding to school districts to help them establish new programs for students to earn qualifying credentials in “priority” industry sectors like advanced manufacturing and information technology. It also awards schools an additional payment of $1,250 when a student earns such a credential. During fiscal year 2022, Ohio students earned a total of 5,744 eligible credentials, and 123 school districts received over $7 million in incentive payments.
Such impacts are worthy of praise. But so, too, is an under-the-radar internship program under the purview of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation. The High School Tech internship began in 2021 as a pilot program. It was designed to provide high school students with valuable work experience in technology-related roles while giving businesses a competitive opportunity to bolster their talent pipelines (among other benefits). Under this program, employers who hire high school interns in tech-related roles can be reimbursed for wages if students are employed for a minimum number of hours (150 under the first iteration of the program, 120 under the latest guidelines) and are paid at least $12 per hour.
At the outset, two education pilot sites were selected in each of the state’s six JobsOhio regions to facilitate relationships between employers and students. Site staff were responsible for recruiting employers, working with schools to identify students to apply for internships, developing work-based learning agreements for those who were hired, and monitoring interns’ progress. The initial goal was to place 100 high schoolers during the summer of 2021 in roles focused on software development, data, cybersecurity, and cloud and IT infrastructure. According to the program’s 2021 education pilot site report, more than seventy students were successfully placed.
The third year of the program is now underway. (Internships can start at any time once funding is approved, though no student can be placed after June 15.) Media reports indicate that up to 535 students statewide are participating in tech-related internships thanks to the program. While 500 students won’t transform the state, the significant increase since year one suggests an appetite from students and employers for this type of opportunity. Furthermore, without this program, many students might not have access to work-based learning experiences at all.
The state also deserves kudos for being attentive to feedback. Consider the following:
- The 2021 education pilot site report notes that most sites identified “timeline challenges” as an issue, and suggested starting the employer recruitment process in January. This year, applications for the program started in January.
- The report indicates that sites with intermediary organizations were more successful at placing larger numbers of students. This year, the state is piloting an intermediary model in two JobsOhio regions—Dayton and Cincinnati—with the Strategic Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) and the INTER Alliance of Greater Cincinnati serving as intermediaries that will facilitate the program and serve as a resource for educational entities and businesses.
- The report emphasizes that financial incentives for employers can help businesses “mitigate the financial risks” of providing opportunities to students. Maintaining wage reimbursement has been crucial. But there are also additional incentives at play. Under 2021 guidelines, employers were eligible to receive an extra $100 in reimbursement if an intern earned a credential on the IWIP list. The most recent program guidelines upped that amount to $1,000. With a financial incentive that’s ten times bigger, it seems likely that more businesses will prioritize helping students earn qualifying credentials while they participate in internships.
The latest program guidelines also include additional incentives for educational entities (districts, career-tech centers, and ESCs are all eligible to participate in the program). For example, participating schools may be eligible to use qualifying credentials earned by students during these internships to obtain the $1,250 IWIP incentive. Educational entities are also eligible for a separate incentive payment based on the number of interns they place who work a minimum of 120 hours: Placing four interns is worth $400, six is worth $750, and eight can net an additional $1,200.
Compared to some other initiatives overseen by the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, the High School Tech Internship program isn’t big or flashy. But it does benefit students, schools, and employers, and it seems to be getting better with age. That’s exactly the kind of program Ohio needs right now—and hopefully, more programs like this will soon be available.