What's the most important thing you need on your resume to get a job? A perfect GPA? A degree from a fancy university? A recommendation from the boss's mom?
Sure, that last one doesn't hurt. But as working people, we all know it's on-the-job experience.
But how do you get experience? For a growing number of young workers, the answer is internships.
The number really is growing. Just 17 percent of students in 1992 said they had an internship at some point during college. In 2017, it was up to more than 62 percent.
With the looming retirement of the baby boomer generation, plastics processors are turning to internships to help recruit the next generation of skilled workers.
This summer, students from high schools, colleges and even overseas helped out at plastics companies around the country. In our special report, we review successful efforts at Deceuninck North America LLC in Monroe, Ohio; GW Plastics Inc. in Royalton, Vt.; Mack Molding Inc. in Arlington, Vt.; Menasha Corp. in Neenah, Wis.; Met2Plastic LLC in Elk Grove Village, Ill.; Plastic Parts Inc. in Union Grove, Wis.; and Wisconsin Plastics Inc. in Green Bay, Wis.
I know that these stories represent a tiny slice of the plastics companies that hired interns this summer.
We're not talking about the stereotypical internship of fetching coffee, making copies and washing the boss's car. You'll be impressed with the responsibility that many companies give their interns.
This marks Plastics News' fourth special report this summer focused on young people. We published a plastics education issue in July, a report on apprenticeships later that month and our annual Rising Stars profiles in August.
That's a lot of coverage. But plastics processors tell me all the time that the biggest issue they face is recruiting and retaining the next generation of workers. With the exception of a few economic downturns, that's been their No. 1 issue every year since we started publishing 30 years ago.
Demographics hint that the problem is going to get a lot worse. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, so employers — especially manufacturers — are losing skilled workers every day. Processors want to grow, but they can't do it without talented employees.
I've been on both sides of the intern experience. Way back in the 1980s, I had a couple of internship experiences — one paid and one for college credit. They gave me a portfolio of newspaper clippings that helped me get my first job.
At Plastics News, I've managed more interns than I can remember, which, frankly, is a little embarrassing. I wish I'd kept a list! But it's great to work with young people. And sometimes, we've ended up hiring them full time.
I found two trends surprising in this special report. First, many companies now hire high school students as interns. Second, high schools are being proactive and contacting plastics companies to place promising students in summer internships.
A growing number of school guidance counselors know that there are good career opportunities in plastics manufacturing. That's great news.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.