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Business Feature

The Intern


A student member of Oakridge Neighborhood’s Youth Summer Employment Program. Photo courtesy of Oakridge Neighborhood

The value of internships for both students and businesses

“Internships play a key role in an individual’s career exploration. In addition to giving students the opportunity to dive headfirst into the working world, they allow employers to build connections with prospective employees and future colleagues.”

That’s what the Greater Des Moines Partnership says on its website.

To attract talented young professionals, the Partnership lists multiple resources to find a Des Moines-based internship. Available resources include access to the Partnership’s Career Center, as well as the DSM Intern Connection event series. The event features programming intended for students and young professionals to learn from community leaders as well as networking opportunities. The Partnership has also joined with Grand View University to house Greater Des Moines interns over the summer. 

Research from Compare Camp shows completing an internship increases job offers by 16%. Graduating seniors with internships average 1.17 job offers; meanwhile, their counterparts who did not complete an internship receive only 0.98 offers on average. The benefits of an internship for students are clear: valuable work experience, networking opportunities, and the development of professional skills, among many others. However, what’s in it for the employer?

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Danielle White, CEO at Myriad Advisor Solutions in Waukee. Photo courtesy of White

Myriad Advisor Solutions

One company that continues to hire interns across departments is Myriad Advisor Solutions in Waukee. It is a small business consulting firm that helps other small businesses with services such as information technology, human resources and marketing.

The company offers a wide variety of internship experiences.

“We can have it very entry-level where this is your first real job ever. It can be right before you’re at that full-time hire standpoint but just need a little bit more rounding out your skill set,” said Danielle White, CEO at Myriad Advisor Solutions. “We’re very open to all intern levels.”

Myriad hires interns at the high school level all the way up to graduate students. The company uses resources like the Greater Des Moines Partnership to tap into the pool of young talent. They also work with schools like Drake University, Iowa State University, Grand View University and DMACC. Working directly with internship coordinators and other professionals helps Myriad find quality candidates. The company also attends school career fairs primarily to recruit interns as opposed to full-time employees. They also use online tools like Handshake to post their internship opportunities. 

The company focuses on three main departments and tries to employ interns in each department year-round: IT, HR and marketing. If an intern comes in with a specialized focus, Myriad works to provide the intern with that experience; however, what the company found is that most interns are not 100% sure what they want to do, so Myriad focuses on exposure.

“If they have no idea what they want to do — which most interns are doing internships to get the exposure — then we’ll do a rotational type program,” White said.

Within the company, White said interns are one and the same as their full-time colleagues.

“[Interns are] definitely seen as equals. They partake in as many client meetings as possible; they can talk if they have ideas or feel confident enough to do so. From a workload standpoint, I’d say it’s lighter than a full-time person,” White explained.

Interns are invited and encouraged to participate in workplace events and gatherings. At the end of each internship, the company asks the interns to create a presentation about what they learned to coincide with a farewell luncheon or similar event.

An internship at Myriad can result in a full-time position. Nicole Toppin graduated from the University of Iowa in May and went on to Drake University for her MBA. She needed more work experience in marketing, which led her to Myriad. She applied, interviewed, got the position, and worked as an intern from August to December. She worked directly with the company’s digital marketing specialist to create social media content, make blog posts and write copy, among other tasks. In October, she mentioned she was looking for a full-time position. At the start of the new year, she began full-time. As an intern, Toppin said she felt like an equal in the workplace and felt like she was compensated fairly for her work.

In 2022, Myriad advertised 22 full-time positions, but four are still unfilled; interns help with those workforce shortages. They help bridge the gap and support those full-time positions when they are eventually filled. 

Another challenge Myriad faces is retaining its workforce.

“In the Des Moines market, which we’re trying to make an impact on, a lot of interns seem to want to go back home instead of staying in Des Moines,” White explained.

White believes employing interns is a win for all parties involved. On one hand, it helps Myriad with its brand awareness and builds relationships with the community. On the other hand, it helps the interns figure out what they want to do. If it ends up being in a completely different direction, that’s OK, too. 

“Since we get to expose them to so much, they may find a new passion,” White said.

“I think that our program is incredibly valuable because I think the difference of what we can offer versus a large company is the breadth of things they will be exposed to. Whereas, at a larger company — yeah, their program might be a little bit more formalized and structured, but it’s also going to be a little bit more siloed into what they’ll be exposed to and what they’re actually doing, and there’ll be a lot more red tape, so to speak.”


Principal Financial Group

For more than 20 years, Principal Financial Group has been hiring interns in almost all its departments. Annually, they onboard more than 200 collegiate interns during summer and extended co-op internships.

The company uses Handshake as well as school-specific job boards to find interns. Principal has formal university relationships with Drake University, Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, and the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. 

Principal also partners with Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG). Each summer, the company hires 10 iJAG interns. Principal and iJAG work with 13 Iowa high schools: East, Hoover, Johnston, Lincoln, Mason City, North, Perry, Roosevelt, Saydel, Urbandale, Valley, Waukee and Waukee Northwest.

As far as compensation, EVP and Chief HR Officer Jon Couture said, “All internship opportunities are paid at market competitive hourly rates. These hourly compensation rates are evaluated on an annual basis. All interns also receive either a grossed-up incidental expense stipend or stipend and company-expensed housing as additional incentive.

“Many of our internship opportunities provide a full-time avenue into the company,” Couture added, “pending good performance and forecasted talent needs at the professional community and department level.”


Iowa Summer Youth Internship Grants

On Jan. 9, Iowa Workforce Development announced that, for another year, it would support grants that help Iowa’s youth gain valuable work experiences. A total of $379,000 will be available for Future Ready Iowa’s Summer Youth Internship Program grants.

The program targets youth ages 14-24 and helps prepare them for high-demand careers. Eligible applicants for the program include nonprofits, educational institutions, employers and community organizations. The grant is used to support high-risk youth from low-income households and underrepresented communities. 

The awarded funds may be used to fund participant wages above $12/hour, training resources, program supplies, transportation costs, program coordination and administrative costs. 


Christine Irvine, vice president of communications at Oakridge Neighborhood, with John Spinks, 21st CCLC program coordinator. Photo by Colson Thayer

Youth Summer Employment Program

Des Moines’ Oakridge Neighborhood is the state’s largest Section 8 housing project, with 72% of the residents being immigrants and refugees. In 2022, the Oakridge Neighborhood received $91,000 in grants from Iowa Workforce Development to support its Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP). The program provides opportunities for at-risk high school youth between the ages 14-21. After more than 25 years, YSEP is one of the state’s longest-running summer youth employment programs. 

YSEP is not exclusive to Oakridge residents, although many participants do come from the neighborhood. Because much of the population they serve are immigrants and refugees, many of the kids lack soft skills and language proficiency, making it hard to find employment opportunities.

“It’s an opportunity for youth who’ve never been employed to get gainful employment,” said John Spinks, program coordinator at Oakridge Neighborhood’s 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC). 

The program works with a variety of community partners for funding and employee placement. Diversified funding from organizations like Banker’s Trust, United Way, UnityPoint, Sammons Financial and Iowa Workforce Development allows Oakridge to place youth in a variety of different positions. The youngest and least-experienced applicants are placed on Oakridge’s campus. They provide entry-level jobs like assisting with Oakridge’s summer camp or cleaning and sanitizing Oakridge facilities. For more experienced candidates, Oakridge might place them in high-skilled jobs like marketing at Sammons Financial, reception at UnityPoint, or even working at the Statehouse.

None of the program participants make minimum wage. In fact, the hourly rate for YSEP participants ranges from $11-$20. Oakridge pays their participants directly, as opposed to their community partners. 

The primary focus of YSEP is to pair employability skills with academic success. Before hiring any student, Spinks makes sure they are making it to school on time and receiving good grades. 

The 2022 summer program employed 70 youth. The program’s success has pushed Oakridge to strive for year-round employment. ♦

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