Spring Break Internships: Teaming Up and Building Skills

For Stephany Ortiz, like all other high school students during the pandemic, this school year has been unique. Online learning has become the norm. The future is uncertain. But the need to learn new skills that prepare students for the workforce remains a constant.

That’s where the Spring Break Internship, a yearly offering of our Manufacturing Connect program, comes in. The program has a strong youth development focus. Each year, students  intern for area companies and gain professional and technical skills and experience they will need in the workforce. This year, however, the program adapted to current realities because of the pandemic, and offered the experience to students online instead of in-person.  25 students broke off into groups and  worked with three companies. BSD Industries (BSD stands for Building Self-Determination), is a social enterprise of The Arthur M. Brazier Foundation that provides robotics training and works to bring economic opportunity to communities on Chicago’s south side; Best Fruits and Nuts Company, is also located on Chicago’s south side, and; Schweet Cheesecake located on Chicago’s west side.

Student “Youth Squad”

While students could not go directly to company locations, they did learn key skills that will prove invaluable in the workforce – like how to be part of a team, take on leadership roles, do research, and present their findings to a company. Ortiz and ten other students who called themselves the BSD Youth Squad created content and a design that reinforced company messages about sustainability, economic development, and the products it manufactures.

Ortiz, a senior at Prosser Career Academy on Chicago’s northwest side, said the experience “reminded me that being in a job is going to be about working with many different people.” She created Instagram images and a logo for the project, while other students fulfilled a variety of roles, including making a video for a presentation to the company. “The program definitely took me on a path where I wanted to keep learning,” she says. “It was a great experience because it brought together people with different ideas and personalities who had a single goal.” Khalid Reddick, a senior at Lindblom High School who lives in the Englewood community on the city’s south side, also  participated in the program, interviewing people at BSD for the project. “The connections that I made will help me – just meeting new people and talking to them,” he says. “I also wasn’t even expecting that we could create ads and social media like we did as a team.”

Changing Narrative of Manufacturing

Leslye Long, Assistant Program Manager of Manufacturing Connect, says that for many students, the program introduces them to the “possibilities and realities of manufacturing for the first time. Our goal is to help provide students with social and emotional supports as well as technical training and experiences they need as they take this journey.”

Dee Dee Jones, Industry Coordinator for Manufacturing Renaissance, adds that the Internship is part of the program’s broader effort to teach students “that these companies can hire you because they need you.” At the same time, Jones says, she is “looking for work environments with career ladders” for young people.

Karen DeGrasse, Workforce Development Managers with BSD Industries, says that the company was “excited to have the energy of students who were focused on our marketing messages. They came up with messages that talked about the cutlery we make, our eco-friendly approach, and the mission that drives our work. They created a campaign that gave us exposure on Facebook and LinkedIn. We’re absolutely using what they came up with.” One of the posts students created, in fact, was reshared by a local Mariano’s store.

For DeGrasse, the Spring Break Internship is part of a changing narrative about the world of manufacturing.  “It’s about helping this generation recognize that manufacturing is definitely a path that they can take if they put in the work,” she says.

The Spring Break Internship is one of numerous work-related experiences students are exposed to during the Manufacturing Connect program. They also have a chance to job shadow, find summer jobs, and learn about career opportunities. Companies have shared with Manufacturing Renaissance that young people benefit from multiple training experiences.

Brence Turner, Senior Machining Instructor for Manufacturing Renaissance, says that the experience was designed to help students learn skills that have been identified by companies. “The biggest and most important thing manufacturers tell us they want is someone who can work on a team and show up every day,” he says. “For students who participated in this program, it was ‘Mission Accomplished.’”