POET welcomes largest intern group as demand for spots spikes

July 16, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Here’s one sign of a strong internship program: There are often 100 applicants for each spot.

That’s the sort of demand that created POET’s largest group of summer interns.

There are 26 interns in the Sioux Falls headquarters and 56 companywide across POET’s 28 ethanol plants.

Ethan native Danika Pollreisz is one of them. She enjoyed her first summer internship at POET so much, she’s back for a second year and an entirely different experience.

The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology student first put her chemical engineering education to work at a POET plant in Mitchell last summer.

“I got to see what it was like in a plant,” she said. “I worked with vendors, ordered some control valves, got to install them, got to update the entire plant. It was great overall hands-on stuff you really don’t get to see at a lot of places.”

This summer, she’s working in the Sioux Falls headquarters on projects that touch all of POET’s 28 ethanol plants.

“We get to see what people do in the lab, I get to hear what some of the team members do in D.C. and some of the really great things we’re doing, and I really get that fulfilling feeling knowing that I’m helping all these other plants,” Pollreisz said.

POET’s managers increasingly have wanted interns because “they realize the great experience they can provide an intern and the great work we can accomplish with them here,” said Kate Hlushak, who coordinates the program in human resources.

Hlushak was introduced to POET five years ago when she interned in human resources – a department now named CARE, which stands for culture, attitude and achievement, rewards and recognition, and engagement.

“I got to really work in all areas of HR. I got to experience benefits and employee relations and recruitment, and I really got to see all the different things I could do in my career,” she said.

The number of interns in the Sioux Falls office has doubled from five years ago, she said. Especially in competitive areas such as engineering, there often are 100 applicants for each spot. Other internships are offered in areas such as logistics, merchandising, maintenance, the laboratory, research and public affairs.

Interns have come from both coasts and everywhere in between, including temporarily moving to Sioux Falls.

“They know that we are the largest producer of biofuels in the entire world and that’s exciting. You want to work for a company like that. So we have interns come from far and wide,” Hlushak said.

Pollreisz also was inspired by POET’s commitment to sustainability. She appreciates the chance to work on the same types of projects she would do as a full-time employee.

“Me and my co-workers are working on very similar projects. They’re all at the same level. I’m not doing anything less than what they are, so I feel like I’m pretty ready to start a job once I graduate.”

She has one semester of college left and then said she easily could see herself applying to work at POET.

“I’ve really enjoyed my experience here. Just because I’m already doing such meaningful things, I would love to carry that on.”

It’s a familiar path: In the past decade, POET has had about 270 interns, and 55 continue working for the company today.

Here are other best practices that have helped POET grow its internship program:

  • A strong college presence. POET representatives attend 10 college internship fairs each fall as well as events near their plants. They do an information session the night before, have face-to-face meetings and get students excited about the opportunities.
  • Cultivate buy-in from managers. POET tasks managers with structuring projects for interns that aren’t “busy work” but offer real value to both intern and employer.
  • Pay and benefits. POET internships are paid, and interns can take advantage of employee benefits such as on-site fitness centers, company picnics and volunteer opportunities.
  • Structured programming. While POET interns have specific projects in their departments, the intern class gets together for workshops around resume writing, mock interviews and meet-and-greet sessions with leadership.
  • Career-path panels. POET gathers existing employees in certain fields for panel discussions with students in those fields to talk about career paths and answer questions.

To see more workforce development strategies, read the latest edition of WIN: Workforce Information Now from the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

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POET welcomes largest intern group as demand for spots spikes

POET is working to build its future workforce by crafting a college internship program that often draws up to 100 applicants for each spot.

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