(Editor’s note: STEM News is provided through a collaborative effort with the NC STEM Community Collaborative, MCNC, and the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Center (SMT Center). To submit story ideas, please email LTW Editor Rick Smith rsmith@wral.com or Noah Garrett noah@thinkngc.com.)

Local Tech Wire

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Spurred by concerns that students today are ill-prepared in the areas that will make them suitable employees tomorrow, North Carolina businesses are creating innovative internships to help young people gain valuable skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The program from Progress Energy gives high school and first-year community college students an opportunity to learn about power plant operations while also looking at possible scholarships and long-term employment.

Power Careers Director Lee McCollum said the program addresses a major workforce development problem for many tech industries.

“We have an aging workforce in technical areas,” explained McCollum. “Progress Energy provides a way for students to get hands on experience while they get a community college education. Through our program, the student tries the industry and the industry tries the student.”

Progress Energy may extend job offers based upon the student’s academics, job evaluations, experience and vacancies. Since 2002, the company has hired approximately half of the students in the program, and all but two are still employed.

Other local companies are looking at education as a major link to workforce development.

WakeMed, working with Wake Technical Community College, Wake County Public Schools and others, created the , which offers internships, mentorships, and job shadowing opportunities to students at the unique early college. Located adjacent to Wake Med’s main facility, it currently serves about 400 students.

“The collaboration between WakeMed, Wake Tech, and the Wake County Public School System supports our commitment to the community in educating …future health leaders,” said Dr. Bill Atkinson, WakeMed CEO and a leading supporter of STEM initiatives in North Carolina.

EMC Corporation, which has five sites in North Carolina, also partners with the Wake County School System, primarily through the (AOIT) program at Apex High school. Each year, at least two seniors are given coveted internships at EMC as a way to jumpstart their college careers.

While improving education outcomes is a laudable community relations goal, these internships also help alleviate immediate worries about finding STEM-literate employees.

“I talk with local businesses in different fields who complain they can’t find workers knowledgeable in technology,” added Progress Energy’s McCollum. “I tell them, you have to grow your own.”

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