Intern strategy

Develop partnerships with colleges and universities to train candidates and hire the best ones to fill skill gaps.

December 29, 2011   by Giulio Desando

Manufacturers eager to develop new products face significant human resource challenges, chief among them hiring people who possess hard-to-find or new skills. A lack of available jobs over the last three years has driven a lot of technical talent from the manufacturing sector, so it’s not surprising a 2010 global survey conducted by the Manpower Group found one in three companies experienced difficulty filling positions. And demand continues to rise.

Finding (or headhunting) qualified people from other companies is a traditional recruitment method that’s really a short-term – and not particularly cost-effective –
fix. Experience can be expensive when companies compete for talent. A more effective plan is to focus on the longer term and develop in-house capabilities that address skills shortages. A good way to start is through campus recruitment and partnerships that allow you to bring in and train candidates, then eventually hire them. Internships extend the job interview process with no commitment to hire should staffing requirements change. Deployed properly, they address, as needed, internal shortages department by department.

RIM: Top R&D spender

Research in Motion (RIM), BCE and IBM have been named Canada’s leaders in R&D spending this year by Research Infosource.

Canada’s Top 100 R&D corporations generated income of $9.4 billion in 2010, down from $10.4 billion in 2009, continuing a negative trend in R&D spending for the fifth consecutive year.

But revenues for 92 companies increased by 4.7%.

Despite recent turmoil surrounding the Waterloo, Ont.-based tech-giant, RIM remains Canada’s biggest spender at more than $1.4 billion, an increase of 26.3% over 2009.

BCE was second at $821 million.

More big names rounded out the top 10, including engineering firm Atomic Energy ($476 million), automotive giant Magna ($463.5 million) and Bombardier ($198.7 million).

Start with a needs analysis for short- and long-term staffing, taking into account the age demographics and the sustainability of positions within departments. For instance, if an employee were to retire or leave the company, what would the replacement cost be from financial and knowledge perspectives? Such positions should be given priority for long-term staffing development strategies.

Developing partnerships with university co-ops and career services institutions provides the added benefit of tax incentives offered by federal and provincial governments for hiring co-op and graduate students. Programs such as Connect Canada, a national, federally supported internship program, bring together companies with graduate students and their professors who are conducting leading edge research to direct short-term intern placements that focus on real R&D needs. Companies gain the skills of a graduate-level student/academic professor team, while reaping the end results of the R&D through negotiated intellectual property.

Put a formal program in place that outlines the intern’s intended growth and development, but ultimately engages the candidate’s interest in the company just prior to graduation. Details should be worked out with all the company’s departments before the interns arrive. Establish evaluation processes modeled after career development programs already in place to select the best candidates for return engagements and promote the best ones to the next level. It’s critical mentors help interns learn skills and organizational culture. This “brand building” promotes the company’s benefits, culture and potential career development paths to ensure interns stay engaged.

Developing expertise from the ground up builds a more technical and engaged workforce that will add exponential financial value over the long term.

Giulio Desando is the director of business development for Connect Canada, a national R&D internship program managed by AUTO21 Inc. Visit

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