LEWISTON — The Maine State Chamber and Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce have teamed up for a pilot program to figure out why more companies don’t offer internships and to start turning that around.

“I think for businesses, it’s a great opportunity for retention of Maine talent and recruitment of out-of-state talent,” Androscoggin County Chamber President Matt Leonard said. “If it expands, we can do targeted marketing to universities and colleges nationwide and say, ‘Hey, come to Maine; do an internship.’ We know once they spend time here, they’re going to fall in love with Maine and everyone gets that infusion of new people, new talent.”

Since October 2010, the state chamber has organized InternHelpME.com, a statewide grass-roots effort for students and employers to find each other, said Joyce LaRoche, vice president of membership and marketing.

About 1,200 students have filled out profiles on the site and businesses have posted 120 internships.

“It’s been successful; however, we need to get it to the next level,” LaRoche said. “We have students looking for opportunities all the time. By doing this pilot program, we’re looking to gain a better understanding of what tools and resources need to be developed to help employers who’ve never offered an internship easily make a commitment to offering (one).”

The key: Having it benefit both the student and the business.

LaRoche said more than 60 percent of students who intern with a company are offered full-time employment there once they graduate, so it’s a way to think about building a future workforce.

Androscoggin County was chosen for the pilot because of its mix of colleges, population and new companies, she said.

This summer, the chambers will work to get an inventory of the number of internships already here. This fall, they’ll start meeting in groups and one on one with businesses of all sizes to talk about what they would need to offer an internship in the spring or summer of 2016.

Next winter, they’ll work on creating good matches.

Some think it takes too much work to set up a program, LaRoche said, or are concerned that it would take too much hand-holding between the student and supervisor. The chambers want to try to work against those perceptions.

She points employers to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division guidelines on whether companies have to pay their interns but encourages them to offer a wage or stipend.

Once students are in local internships next summer, the chambers will follow up with the students and businesses to find out more about the experience, pros and cons. It’s about an 18-month pilot program.

LaRoche said she’s excited to see how the approach works here and about replicating it elsewhere.

“I think it’s a great opportunity extended to us from the Maine State Chamber and I think it speaks to how people view L-A right now,” Leonard said. “People want to be here because we’re ready to do new things, we’re ready to do exciting things, we’re ready to do big things.”

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