The innovative 6-week summer Conexus Interns Program places high school students into the workforce where they learn and perform real-world activities in an advanced manufacturing or logistics (AML) company. During the internship, they experience life in the high-tech and challenging world of modern manufacturing and logistics.

It’s an experience we know encourages more students to consider a career in advanced manufacturing and logistics. And as our industry continues to grow, our need for qualified talent now and in the years to come becomes more urgent. Internships benefit students and industry along the talent development continuum.

While we have our own internal internship program at Praxair, we historically recruited applicants that were third- or fourth-year college engineering students or recent engineering graduates. Hiring interns at the high school level was a new experience for us and we approached it with caution. We weren’t sure we could provide meaningful work in a highly regulated environment such as ours. From our Indiana campus, we primarily service the aviation and power generation industries. It turns out that having high school students on the facility floor, engaging in productive work is not only possible but extremely enlightening and valuable.

The Conexus Interns Program is definitely a win for students, industry and Indiana’s economic future. We understand that students need hands-on experience working in a high-tech environment to truly appreciate the career opportunities available. Companies such as Praxair are trying to find ways to attract the best talent, and as Indiana continues to lead the nation in advanced manufacturing growth, our biggest hurdle is building a skilled and robust talent pipeline. 

The Conexus Interns Program is relatively turn-key and pre-qualifies the intern pool through a competitive process that ensures the candidates are mature, genuinely interested in pursuing an AML career, and recognize the opportunity offered to them in the program. They must be enrolled in or have completed Hire Tech or Project Lead The Way pre-engineering coursework, and provide qualifying GPAs and attendance rates as well as personal recommendations from their schools. The pool of qualified students is deep and we were fortunate to have some of the most talented students. An added plus: companies hosting these interns are reimbursed for the students’ hourly wages during the first year the company participates.

We employed four interns this past summer–two selected from Pike High School and two from Speedway High School. In addition to the qualifications required by the Conexus Interns Program, our own selection criteria included not just educational excellence, but an attitude that demonstrated eagerness to learn and willingness to “do.”

When you are part of the Praxair family, process efficiencies are a valued part of your advanced manufacturing methodologies. Our global mission to make our planet more productive, by developing technologies, products and services that help sustain and protect the environment, begins at home in our own plants and facilities. So, when we decided to participate in the Conexus Interns Program, we wanted to incorporate the interns into Lean manufacturing—a widely recognized manufacturing approach focusing on eliminating waste, basically any activity that consumes resources and doesn’t add value. It could be wasted materials or time such as walking from one end of the plant to another to access a specific process.

We determined the best way for these interns to gain a comprehensive, hands-on experience was within our continuous improvement and workplace organization groups. Working with our Operations Excellence (OPx) team, the interns gained hands-on experience in such essential Lean systems as designing workplaces to accommodate the needs of the teams who actually perform the processes, from equipment placement to supply and inventory storage, to predictive maintenance that empowers operators to assist in proactively maintaining the equipment they use. The interns spent most of their working hours on the plant floor or processing documents that directly affect how we process customer-supplied parts that will receive a protective coating at Praxair.

Our goal was to provide interns the opportunity to experience the reality of what they learn in the classroom and the work they produced exemplified that outcome. They tackled “backburner” Lean projects with enthusiasm, and helped with gathering data, creating the layout for a new manufacturing cell that contains all of the necessary coating processing steps all in one location, and participated in customer and internal continuous improvement events. The interns were personable, intelligent and efficient, and we received positive feedback from those who worked with and supervised them. The most compelling evidence of our satisfaction with the program: we hope to employ at least one of our four interns full-time next summer, and would be happy to have them all back in some capacity.

We look forward to participating in next summer’s Conexus Interns Program, and encourage other Indiana AML companies to consider doing so. The State of Indiana encourages Indiana employers to participate in the Career Ready Campaign, an initiative dedicated to teaching students about Indiana’s wide range of career opportunities here at home. The Conexus Interns Program streamlines the AML industries’ continuing effort to strengthen the talent pool for skilled employees, and takes the message about highly paid, challenging and rewarding careers in Indiana’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries into local high schools. For more information about Conexus Interns, contact Ben Hebbe at bhebbe@conexusindiana.com.

Freddie Sarhan is responsible for all operational and sales activities for Praxair Surface Technologies’ business in North and South America.

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