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Mining for Talent

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy tackles staffing shortage by turning to IT interns from nearby universities.

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) regulates the mineral industry, provides mineral research and offers advice about the wise use of the state's mineral and energy resources. Our largest office sits in the southwest part of Virginia where the highest concentration of mineral resources is located. This is the heart of Appalachia, a poor, rural and mountainous region with few educational and employment opportunities for youth.

Because of its small size and limited budget, DMME relies on IT to meet its strategic goals and objectives. The agency operates on level funding at best and has added no full-time IT staff over the past decade, despite significantly increased demand from its internal and external customers. DMME copes with staffing shortages by tapping the IT talent of interns from local universities.

IT Achievers

The agency began partnering with local universities in 2001 for student IT interns to work onsite as software development team members. Interns work with and are supervised by DMME's three full-time software developers.

In fall 2006, the University of Virginia's College at Wise launched the first undergraduate software engineering degree program in the state, one of only 10 in the nation. DMME established a formal partnership with the new program to employ software engineering students as interns -- a direct match with the agency's business need. This partnership and similar agreements with Mountain Empire Community College and Old Dominion University have provided DMME a steady supply of IT interns.

The internship program is a great opportunity for students to gain real-world experience and use their knowledge and skills. The interns also benefit from mentoring with experienced IT professionals. Students who have worked in a professional team-based, results-driven environment offer real value to any employer.

Thanks in large part to the work of its IT interns -- and with no budget increase -- DMME has dramatically improved its online e-government and mobile applications. Measurable cost savings and award-winning applications demonstrate the value of this collaboration. Students have been a key element of DMME's development strategy because of their low cost and high value. Several competitive federal and state technology grants have been developed through their efforts.

What's more, student-assisted projects have received several national, state and regional awards. Most recently, the National Association of State CIOs honored the agency as a finalist for a cross-boundary collaboration and partnerships award.

FACT BOX:

About 24 IT interns have passed through the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy since the program began in 2001.

Our student interns have also gained business-related knowledge and developed a portfolio that demonstrates their abilities. Local communities and the state benefit when students train and work in a targeted growth industry without leaving their homes. Many interns who have participated in DMME's internship program now work for local technology employers such as CGI and Northrop Grumman. Through this model, the student internship program has helped develop the emerging technology industry in rural Southwest Virginia.

The financial benefits of the internship program to students in the region are estimated to be more than $170,000 in salaries paid to date by DMME to interns. And the state has saved more than $500,000 when the current market wages for entry-level software engineers are factored in.

DMME's student IT intern program is a great example of industry, government and higher education collaborating to meet organizational and budgetary goals, while building a skilled workforce and investing in the region's youth.

Dec 08 2009

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