Staffing firm creates Talent Hub program for interns
By Rachel Watson
AXIOS HR connects interns with small- and mid-sized businesses that often don’t have time to hunt for, train and retain new workers.
Months ago, leaders at AXIOS HR, 528 Fourth St. NW, noticed small businesses in West Michigan were desperate for new talent. At the same time, college graduates were leaving the region for jobs elsewhere in the Midwest.
The Grand Rapids-based firm’s staffing solutions team developed a program called Talent Hub to identify, screen, hire, onboard and manage interns so employers can focus on running their businesses.
Shannon Burkel, executive vice president of staffing solutions at AXIOS HR, said she “saw a gap and tried to be part of the solution.”
“What I was seeing is that our small business client partners didn’t have the resources to get it done,” she said. “They would love to take on an intern or two. But you have to craft the job description, know where the career fairs are, work with the school if it’s a for-credit program for the interns and manage them.”
Mackenzie Marks, director of talent acquisition at AXIOS HR’s office staffing division, said Talent Hub’s other goal is to reverse the region’s brain drain.
“We saw a gap for talented younger professionals in the area, people who had lots of skills who we wanted to keep and retain in our community but were leaving to larger cities like Detroit or Chicago because they weren’t seeing opportunities here,” she said. “So, we saw ourselves as the perfect middle man for two groups who weren’t able to connect with each other.”
Burkel herself started as an intern 17 years ago at AXIOS HR and has worked her way up the ladder since then. She said connecting young people with future careers, especially in the manufacturing and professional sectors her company serves, is her passion.
Before placements can happen, AXIOS HR has to build “deep connections” with colleges, universities, businesses and students in order to understand what all parties need and offer.
The firm kicks off the Talent Hub program by working with the employers.
“From a practical level, if a client is interested in having an intern, we draft them a job description,” Burkel said. “We learn all the objectives they want completed, we help them find candidates, screen (the interns), onboard, orient them, and we’re also the means of employing them; we have them on our payroll.”
AXIOS HR considers interns to be its clients in addition to business owners, so once the young employees have been hired, the company continues helping them grow.
“We follow up with the intern … throughout the entire experience,” Burkel said. “We provide leadership development and soft skills training.”
Marks said the soft skills training includes a range of topics taught in-house by AXIOS HR employees as well as by outside professionals.
“We have, at this point, monthly training and development sessions where we ask some of our fellow AXIOS HR employees to come in and speak on a topic that would benefit the interns,” she said. “One of my favorites is a general soft skills class from our HR professionals where they are giving them tips about things they haven’t experienced before. How they can have better business communication, or how they should behave in an office. It’s a better way to get (information) instead of from a scary HR person down the road in their job.
She said they also help interns with self-awareness.
“We have a training based on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment,” she said. “It’s something we all do during the hiring process. We learn about ourselves and what our letters are. We have someone come in and explain to students what it means and how it can affect your dealings with co-workers and employers down the line.”
Mimi Miles, director of marketing at AXIOS HR, said the firm currently is developing a course on how interns can protect their online image.
“Obviously, social media has changed the way students find and look for jobs,” she said. “Having those Facebook, Twitter and other networks out there, and managing those networks as you transition into your profession is important.”
Marks said another soft skills training course offered is teaching interns how to think critically about a job offer, examining the employer’s benefit and compensation package.
“(We’re) giving the interns a chance to speak to HR about what is an insurance deductible, or ‘I have this offer before me, but I don’t understand the benefits.’ So it’s giving them the opportunity to understand and negotiate.”
Burkel said since its launch in late 2016, the Talent Hub program mainly has helped connect interns with businesses that have 100 or fewer employees in manufacturing, sales and marketing, HR, accounting and finance. The businesses pay a fee to access the program and they pay the costs of workers’ comp. AXIOS HR covers everything else.
Although most of the participating employers have found the interns they need for summer 2017, a few still are looking. And the businesses have ongoing talent needs throughout the year.
Burkel said Talent Hub’s definition of success is simple.
“The end goal would be to keep talent in our area,” she said. “If you think about the perfect success story, it would be someone that has an internship, falls in love with the organization, the organization falls in love with them, and it’s a good match. They don’t need to leave our community and look elsewhere.”
Such success stories, she said, include an Albion College student who was placed in an accounting internship at a local company and still works there.
Another intern works at a manufacturing facility in Grand Haven.
“He was a unique find,” Marks said. “His degree is in manufacturing safety regulations, and he is working with a manufacturer to help them update their safety program. He’s getting great experience working … in a place he wouldn’t necessarily have had access to if he had applied on his own.”
Miles said AXIOS HR applied its own Talent Hub strategies toward hiring an intern who is doing well in the company.
“Our current marketing intern at AXIOS HR is definitely going to be a success story,” Miles said. “She comes from Ferris and has a pretty unique skill set. We wanted her to help with digital marketing, and Ferris has a very hands-on program called technical communication. There’s only three programs like it in Michigan. It’s a mix of graphic design and technical writing. It works perfectly for us.”
Marks said one of the main obstacles to matching interns with businesses is employers’ perceptions of “kids these days,” as the saying goes.
“One thing I’m always conscious of when I’m speaking to clients is that a lot of the small businesses have a hesitancy to work with millennials and see them as fully accepted members of society,” she said. “Some clients are not fully aware of what they’re capable of.
“We can really explain to them that the younger generation can do all these things you’re not even aware of.”
AXIOS HR has brick-and-mortar offices in Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon and Ionia.
Article originally appeared in Grand Rapids Business Journal.