Green Bay, Wis., injection molder Wisconsin Plastics Inc. is not a newcomer to internships. The company has done it for more than a dozen years.
WPI is also improving how it handles new hires. Human Resources Director Shannon Lanquist said the company, like all manufacturers, has trouble getting new employees. And keeping them.
"It's a challenge getting people through the door, but it's also getting people to stay. So we changed the way we've done our orientations. I spend more time on the floor," she said.
Lanquist asks each new employee how he or she is doing. How can WPI improve with employee relations? "If you don't put a personal touch, No. 1, you don't get to know your people, and No. 2, they won't stay because you're not invested in them," she said.
Mike Kilgore, the vice president of marketing, teams up with Lanquist on the internship program, partnering with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. That's where several WPI employees, including Kilgore, went to school.
They also work with the local Ashwaubenon School District, which is doubly satisfying because Kilgore and Lanquist graduated from the high school in the late 1980s.
Kilgore talks to students in middle school and elementary school.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's fun to be able to share with the kids in the school district the things that you're learning in school, even at the elementary level, can translate into a career once you get done with college."
Kilgore has a degree in industrial modeling and works in Wisconsin Plastics' six-person design group. WPI is known for its design work for customers and for a proprietary product: WPI's PROvider paper towel dispenser for washrooms, done after extensive market research.
His presentations give the students a taste of a technical career. WPI also brings students in for tours and hosts them in the design area.
Kilgore said students now are getting exposure to 3D printing and CAD in the younger grades. They come in with some basic knowledge.
"The technical trades are being pushed down deeper into the high school and elementary schools," he said.
Typically, WPI has one intern at a time. Interns come in over the summer when they're out of school and work 40 hours a week. They are given responsibilities on prototyping and design, 3D printing and building physical models.
It's a way to build the workforce of the future.