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Companies Enjoy Deep Pool of Highly Skilled Employees in Ann Arbor, MI

STEM and other internship programs connect students to in-demand careers in the region's growing tech sectors.

By Teree Caruthers on December 29, 2021

Talent in Ann Arbor, MI
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One of the Ann Arbor region’s key advantages is its highly educated talent pool; more than 50% of the area’s population hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Top-tier research institutions, including the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, offer highly regarded programs in STEM-related and other fields and collaborate with the business community to create opportunities that keep a pipeline of skilled workers flowing to the region’s growing tech sectors.

Sparking a Bright Future

Ann Arbor SPARK, the region’s lead economic development organization, partners with colleges and universities to develop internship programs
that connect students to in-demand jobs with the hopes of keeping
the region’s top talent close to home.

The organization worked with the University of Michigan (U-M), for example, to tailor the Michigan STEM Forward internship program for students interested in gaming and extended reality (XR), a burgeoning industry that encompasses virtual reality and augmented reality technologies.

The Michigan STEM Forward internship, a collaborative effort between Ann Arbor SPARK and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., aims to match students attending the state’s colleges and universities to Michigan STEM-focused companies.

“While Michigan is home to some of the world’s top STEM institutions and student talent, it often struggles to retain this talent. In order to keep the economy healthy long-term, we must find a way to keep our best and brightest local,” says Austin Yarger, president of Arbor Interactive and a game development lecturer at U-M.

“Fortunately, Ann Arbor SPARK has discovered that our best and brightest tend to stick around if they participate in a local internship, as this allows them to rise through the ranks, earn a quality local paycheck and begin planting roots in the state.”

Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University

Gaining a Real-World Education

Yarger says internships are a valuable way to gain real-world skills that can get students hired faster.

“Students cannot be content to simply take courses,” Yarger says. “Employers want to see significant extracurricular efforts that demonstrate a tangible ability to ‘do the job,’ whether that be working with club members to engineer a solar-powered car or working with multidisciplinary peers to release commercial-grade video games. Employers want students who love to build things, and ideally, are already creating the things the employer needs.”

Ben Ernst, program manager for the Michigan STEM Forward internship program, says companies are heavily vetted to ensure interns will get the most from the experience.

“The ability to test a career path out is a wonderful way for students to explore their chosen direction and develop a passion and increased confidence in that direction. Interns are uniquely suited to provide real value to companies by offering fresh perspectives and different ways of approaching problems,” Ernst says. “Because of this, internships can often lead to full-time employment offers. A full two-thirds of the employers whose interns have graduated indicate that they intend to offer their interns a continuing role.”

Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University

Attracting New Talent to Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor SPARK was tapped to help facilitate the statewide STEM Forward internship program based on the success of its own internship programs, including the Digital Summer Clinic Internship Program, a partnership with the Digital Engagement Clinic at Eastern Michigan University. The internship is open to students at all colleges and universities around the country in an effort to attract new talent to Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor native Celia Arsen was studying information sciences at Barnard College in New York City when she applied to the program. Her internship at Dynamo Metrics, a planning, analytics and reporting software development company, offered her the chance to use her degree, gain real-world experience and learn more about the career opportunities in her hometown.

“I had a strong interest in GIS — geographical information systems — and Dynamo Metrics works in that space, using data to help public officials make informed decisions. Over the course of my internship, I learned a lot about what I wanted to do and what types of roles I wanted to apply for,” says Arsen who, after graduation, was offered a position as a data analytics developer with Mathematica, a policy research firm based in Ann Arbor.

“I was able to speak about my Summer Engagement Clinic experience during my interviewing process, which I believe helped differentiate me as a candidate.”

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