Internships Fill Engineering Pipeline for OEM

Stellar Industries gives engineering interns practical experience intended to keep them coming back for more — even full-time employment.

Garner, Iowa-based Stellar Industries manufactures work trucks and trailers as well as service truck and van accessories. However, for OEMs in small communities like Garner — the total population of Hancock County, of which Garner is the county seat, was 10,795 as of the 2020 census —recruiting engineering talent can be a challenge.

STEM For its internship program, Stellar recruits a variety of engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electrical, aerospace and industrial engineering students. (Photo: Stellar Industries)

“It’s hard to get engineers,” said Nathan Meyer, design engineering lead for Stellar. “[They’re] maybe looking for the jobs in Minneapolis or Chicago or some of the bigger cities where they think that it’s going to be better for them to find a job there. It’s hard to recruit some of those engineers to come to a smaller company, smaller town.”

One way Stellar works to fill its engineering pipeline is via its long-standing internship program. It’s a program that precedes Meyer, who has been with Stellar for five years.

“A gentleman before me came in and started on the engineering side getting this to be a broader internship program,” he said. “Trying to get more interns on the engineering side into that.”

The company recruits a variety of engineering disciplines with its internship program.

“We definitely have a lot of mechanical engineers that we bring on in the internship program,”

Meyer said. “Also, we will look at people that are going into industrial engineering. Aerospace engineering has some tie-overs to some of this stuff we do. I believe we’ve also had some people in ag engineering that have been part of our internship program. But then also electrical engineers, obviously, for some of that electrical design work, as well.”

Recruiting Beyond Local

Meyer said in the early days of the internship program, interns came from the local area or were relatives of current employees. Today, Stellar recruits engineering interns via colleges and universities.

“I think in the last 4-5 years, we have really expanded how we try to recruit those engineers through going to career fairs,” Meyer said. “Right now, we’re using the one in Iowa State and attending that career fair twice a year to do recruiting there and really expanding our brand in that college to really inform people about Stellar.”

One such graduate of Iowa State University, whom the company hired after successfully completing its internship program, is Matt Parcher, quality engineer for Stellar.

“I’m from about a little less than an hour away from where we’re based in Garner,” Parcher said. “I had heard of them — I was familiar with Stellar. When I went to get this internship, I talked to them at the career fair, put my application and all that. I was interested in what they do.” He added that he had always been interested in working on agricultural and heavy equipment.

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No Cubicle Jobs

There was, however, another aspect of Stellar that made it attractive to Parcher.

“There was a lot of opportunity for growth within the company,” he said. “And really from an internship perspective, that translated into, as an intern, when you walk into the doors of that company, you have opportunities immediately to contribute. You don’t get stuck in a cubicle with a computer and some paper and pens in front of you, and you’re filling out lists. You go out there and you’re doing value-added work almost instantaneously.”

Meyer said giving interns meaningful assignments helps with both recruitment and retention of engineering talent.

“I think all interns that I’ve talked to are really appreciative of not just sitting at a desk working on some low-level tasks,” Meyer said. “They’re given really meaningful projects to work on almost the day that they walk in the door.”

Such was Parcher’s experience with his internship.

“So almost right away, I walk in, the quality manager says, ‘Hey, I have a problem with this particular product line that we have some issues with assembly,’” Parcher said. “I go out and I start working with the people on the floor, and we get it figured out and we keep going from there.

“That really was one of the huge appeals, and I think it’s really valuable to be able to walk into an internship and gain those real-world skills.”

Keep Coming Back

Meyer said Stellar tries to get interns to return year after year as part of the program.

“They’re given really meaningful projects to work on almost the day that they walk in the door.”

Nathan Meyer
Design engineering lead
Stellar Industries

“We’re hoping that maybe they’ll like it enough that they’ll want to come back again for us next year,” Meyer said, “which is really beneficial to them, getting to continue their experience with us, but also beneficial to us. Because when they come in for that second summer, they already have a summer’s worth of experience with the company. So, we can put them into maybe higher-level projects that they can really show some benefit to the company on that.”

Beyond applying his technical knowledge, another aspect of the internship program that appealed to Parcher was the ability to learn “soft skills,” such as how to work effectively with coworkers as well as company leadership.

“A lot of these young adults coming out of college, they’re coming from their hometowns,” he said. “You don’t have a ton of exposure into the world of business yet. And I know that was, for me, my biggest personal area of growth through the internships that I had — again, working with the other members of my team, sort of developing how you interact with people in a business setting.”

SC&R Foundation supports workforce with internships The SC&R Foundation has recently launched a new internship program for member companies, awarding interns with awards. 

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