Metro

Budget could help businesses pay interns

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 7, 2013

An article in Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 state budget proposal that would grant Rhode Island businesses partial reimbursement for offering paid internships is currently under review in the state’s House and Senate finance committees.

Eligible businesses would receive state funding for up to 50 percent of their interns’ wages, according to Article 15 of the proposal. Reimbursement could rise up to 75 percent of wages if the firm decides to hire interns involved with the program for full time jobs.

One million dollars could be allocated to the initiative — the State Work Immersion Program — for fiscal year 2014 if the budget proposal is passed by the General Assembly, said Laura Hart, communications manager for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. The proposal also outlines an additional $2 million in fiscal year 2015.

College students and unemployed adults would be eligible to participate in the program, according to the proposal. Chafee’s proposal suggests internships may last up to 10 weeks or as many as 200 hours of work.

“This is the first time that the state of Rhode Island is committing general revenue dollars from the Rhode Island state budget for workforce development purposes,” said Janet Raymond, senior vice president of economic development and operations at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Current workforce development projects in place are all federally funded, she added.

Chafee’s proposal is especially timely because federal funds are facing cuts due to Congress’ attempts to balance the federal budget, Raymond said.

Raymond said she stood before the state House of Representatives last week to testify in favor of the proposal, and she added that she plans to return next week to speak before the Senate.

Since internships afford students valuable work experience and allow businesses to complete tasks that might otherwise not get done, “connecting employers with interns is a win-win situation,” she said.

Career services representatives at Rhode Island’s colleges said they support the proposal because it could benefit students.

“We hear it often. If (students) could get paid, they would do more internships,” said Robbin Beauchamp, director of the Career Center at Roger Williams University, and “students who have multiple internships are much more likely to get an interview” with a prospective employer.

The program could make internships an option for students who have passed up internship opportunities to get jobs to pay for their educations, she said. In a survey, 59 percent of Roger Williams students reported they have held an internship, but only half of those internships were paid, Beauchamp added.

“I certainly think funding for internships is a positive thing for any student,” said Michael Wisnewski, director of the Office of Career Development at Salve Regina University. Internships not only give students a glimpse of the professional world, but they can also provide ways for students to reflect on the real-world applications of their academic studies, he added.

“I think it’s a really great thing for companies too,” said Linda Kent Davis, director of the Career Development Center at Rhode Island College. While many companies could offer valuable experiences to students, without payment “they’re not necessarily attracting students,” she said.

“It is also a way to retain our college talent in Rhode Island,” Raymond said.

The idea for this proposal stemmed from discussion at the Make It Happen R.I. forum last September, the Providence Journal reported. There was “overwhelming support for providing students in school and post-college educated individuals with apprenticeships,” said Jessica David, vice president of strategy and public affairs for the Rhode Island Foundation.

Since the bill is still under consideration, the Department of Labor and Training is in the midst of researching the best ways to implement it, Hart said. If the bill passes, program details should be finalized in time to be implemented after June 1, she added.

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