EMSNOW Executive Interview: Dawn Roller, Associate VP of Human Resources, Indium Corporation
The shortage of skilled workers in electronics manufacturing has been a problem for years; now, like many areas of business, the pandemic has accelerated the crisis. It even has a name: the Great Resignation. Internship programs have offered a good way to introduce new young folks to the industry. We caught up with Dawn Roller, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at Indium Corporation to hear about their innovative and successful program.
EMSNOW: Indium Corporation’s internship program is #NotYourAverageInternship—tell us about the history of the program and why it’s a cut above.
Our interns are not doing busy work, filing, or delivering coffee. Our program is designed to place interns into positions within work teams, where they work alongside experienced professionals to learn through active participation in order to gain real-world work experience. They make valuable contributions to a growing, global high-tech manufacturing company and get to experience first-hand how every single employee’s contribution matters when it comes to satisfying the customer—and why that’s essential for success. Our program includes professional training sessions where we focus on helping interns prepare for a successful transition from student to worker. Interns learn to network both within an organization and externally, with opportunities to learn what a personal brand is and how to leverage social media professionally in their career, among other useful topics. Intern-run blogs give students the chance to put these new skills into action, while sharing their experience with their friends, family, educators, and future employers. We also foster good citizenship by encouraging interns to participate in volunteerism initiatives and give back to the community.
EMSNOW: How do you recruit the interns? Where do they come from and where do they stay while they are working in the summer program?
We leverage all our usual recruiting channels—and some extra measures—to let our workforce, our community, and educational institutions know that we are accepting applications. Our interns find us in unique ways; some of our interns are referrals, some may live or attend college in our community, while others find us online and without having any real prior connection to Indium Corporation, our Mohawk Valley community, or even Central New York. When it comes to finding accommodations, these students are resourceful! Local students may live home, apartment share, or rent housing just for the summer. Others have used Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and even called the local colleges to inquire about renting dorms for summer. One intern even made a daily 90-minute commute (each way) in order to participate in our program.
EMSNOW: How do you inspire the interns to pursue a career in STEM?
Through use of storytelling, we can find things that any person uses in their everyday life that Indium Corporation products are or can be used in. Sharing our belief that materials science changes the world creates interest and appreciation in our products and our business and makes it personal.
Some interns, and even prospective employees, approach us with the concern that their background isn’t technical or scientific enough for Indium Corporation. Although materials science involves significant science and math knowledge, skills, and abilities—running a business requires significant knowledge of its own kind. Sure, we need to research, develop, and troubleshoot projects for our customers. Those jobs require science and math experts such as chemists, metallurgists, and engineers, but we also need production teams to run all our equipment and make the products, procurement and supply chain folks to source materials, screen and contract with vendors, and place orders and track movements.
It takes an array of people with a huge variety of skills to run a successful business. So, we go to great lengths to explain why we also need accountants, analysts, business majors, costing, environmental/health/safety or human resource specialists, marketing/sales/service teams; information technology people with expertise in hardware, networks, cybersecurity, services, and software and applications development. We also have compliance, legal, managerial, physical security roles; as well as quality teams, administrative support teams, and warehousing teams comprised of packing/shipping and receiving folks.
EMSNOW: The skilled labor shortage in electronics manufacturing is a global problem and getting worse. How do you think this program addresses that?
We seek out caring people who want to work, who take pride in what they do, and are reliable members of a team. We are willing to teach if you are willing to learn. We offer a safe, fun, and ever-changing workplace built on our culture of respect, appreciation, and achievement—The Indium Way. Join us and find your work family.
EMSNOW: Tell us about the university/research connection? How is that an important way to win the talent war?
We believe materials science changes the world. There is a natural and fundamental connection between a company that has embraced the importance of materials science and students who have elected to pursue education from universities and institutions that are also dedicated to materials science. By identifying and engaging students throughout their educational journey, we inspire each other and find the best-fit potential future employees—as well as customer and business partners.
EMSNOW: How has the pandemic impacted the program?
At the onset of the pandemic, we just did not know if we could or should proceed with the program. Safety was our top priority. As we were navigating the pandemic and ever-changing states-of-emergency in the geographies that we operate, essential status came about. Indium Corporation was deemed essential based on the customers we serve and the things they produce, such as life-saving medical equipment like ventilators, personal protective equipment, telecommunications devices, and more. Our business was strong pre-pandemic; but the additional demand customers placed on us to help protect first responders, patients, and members of our communities came with great responsibility. So, as we were adjusting and adopting what most now recognize to be standard coronavirus transmission prevention protocols, we began hearing about internship programs shutting down and student offers being retracted. Student opportunities were diminishing. This really resonated with us. We summoned our team, developed every detail of what it might take to successfully host students for the summer internships the way we had in the past, while adhering to these advanced health practices to keep all parties safe.
EMSNOW: When the industry first began decades ago, companies would invest in employee training because they had to. Then as manufacturing moved to other regions, it seemed like that approach was dropped. Would you say that now the trend is reversing and companies are having to invest in training to get people into these manufacturing jobs?
Investing in people pays huge dividends. Not only are you ensuring that your employees have the skills, ability, and knowledge to perform assigned tasks and meet business standards, you are demonstrating your commitment to helping a person be their best self. Competence helps build confidence, and pride inspires workmanship and commitment. Hiring is particularly challenging right now for a variety of reasons. Many have misconceptions about what it means to work in manufacturing; some can’t see themselves fitting in or being successful. A commitment to training and development demonstrates that you are willing to teach and provide opportunities to those who are willing and committed to learning. As employers, our goal is to inspire job seekers to choose manufacturing. We must show them that we are willing to teach them what they need know to be successful in manufacturing. Regardless of your education and work experience, every industry has its uniqueness. Manufacturing is about making things. It’s tangible and fun to see what you did become part of something that someone will be using. It’s a very good feeling.
EMSNOW: Is there anything else you’d like to say about working at Indium Corporation and this internship program?
Our internship is more than providing an opportunity for college students or aspiring leaders. It’s more than providing enthusiastic, equipped manpower for your team or your project. It’s exciting; it energizes and it has inspired many of us, in many different ways, to be comfortable trying something new and be energized by immersing yourself in your work-world in new ways, with fresh enthusiasm. This program has taught us to have fun and try new approaches in nearly everything we do. It’s like stepping outside and breathing fresh air.
To learn more about Indium Corporation’s program and to hear from the latest crop of interns, go to Interns | Internship Program | Careers | Indium Corporation.