With unemployment in the Triangle dropping to the lowest rate seen in years, it’s a worker’s market, especially in high tech. Now, the market becoming one of more opportunity for more students.

With high-tech and other firms search to fill information technology job openings, Wake Tech is stepping up efforts to place paid interns at Triangle companies. So, too, are other community colleges in the region with jobs programs at Johnston County Community College and Wilson Community College aiming to produce ready-to-work grads.

Success is coming most recently in the Triangle with Lenovo committing to hire 12 Wake Tech interns per semester. And a former Lenovo exec is leading the charge to place more interns elsewhere. NetApp and Cisco already had Wake Tech interns.

Tom Looney, the chair of the Wake Tech Board of Trustees, retired from Lenovo in 2014 as North America Sales Vice President and also championed the cause of returning PC manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Lenovo responded by setting up a PC manufacturing line in the Triad.

Now, Looney is working his Lenovo connections as well as with other companies to help them find talent while assisting students in earning some money, college credit and, even more importantly, on-the-job experience.

“As Chair of the Wake Tech Board of Trustees, Tom Looney is reaching out to IT companies to facilitate partnerships with Wake Tech,” Laurie Clowers Vice President of Communications and Public Relations at Wake Tech, tells The Skinny.

“With thousands of IT job openings in the Triangle, those companies can provide valuable work-based learning opportunities for students, while training potential future employees. Some companies, such as Cisco and NetApp are already hiring Wake Tech students as paid interns. What’s interesting about the Lenovo partnership, is that Lenovo is designating 12 internships per semester for Wake Tech students.”

Just as he was aggressive in returning PC jobs to the U.S., Looney is now promoting Wake Tech talent.

“Tom is aggressively reaching out to get other IT companies on board,” Clowers says. “He feels very strongly that Wake Tech students are the key to a skilled workforce.”

No guarantees

However, landing an internship is no easy matter. Some 40 students applied for the Lenovo positions. Twelve made it with “the screening and selection was totally done by Lenovo,” Clowers explains.

Lenovo sees the Wake Tech partnership as opening a talent “pipeline.”

“North Carolina and the Triangle region are rich with talent that Lenovo seeks to achieve our ambitions,” said Tom Shell, Lenovo Senior Vice President, in the announcement. “Wake Tech is a valued partner and this initiative gives us a pipeline to identifying people who can grow to be future leaders at Lenovo.”

In heralding the Lenovo partnership this week, Looney noted: “Companies like Lenovo understand that investing in community college students is an investment in their own future success. Students get work experience and hands-on training in the latest technologies, while companies identify prospective employees with the talents and skill sets they need to fulfill their workforce requirements and win in the market.”

The opportunities aren’t limited to IT. Marketing, business analytics and other spots also will be available.

The first Wake Tech-Lenovo interns started May 16. They are: Shantal Grullon, Andrew Rambaran, Brooks Young, David Mejia, Sean Hadley, Gwyn Nguyen, Kaylen Waltz, Juan Feliz Cita Gomez, De Wet Van Zyl, Zachary Wolf, Lauren Speakman, and William Brantley Scott.

College credit comes through Wake Tech’s Work-Based Learning program.

“Internships can be essential for breaking into a career field,” notes Kathryn Frederick, Wake Tech Coordinator of Work-Based Learning, “and placements with an industry leader like Lenovo are absolutely the best – in more ways than one. Not only do students get real work experience, earn money and college credit, internships can lead to full-time employment.”

More opportunities coming

In 2018, the partnership will grow to 17 interns per semester with the North Carolina Department of Information Technology offering five additional scholarships. Those five will also be employed at NC DIT after graduating from Wake Tech, the school announced.

“We are thrilled to play a role in such an important program,” said Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette. “I believe that technology jobs are the manufacturing jobs of the future, and partnerships like this help us to attract, grow and retain IT talent, not just in the Research Triangle, but throughout the entire state of North Carolina.”