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Building a Robust Talent Pipeline: Why High School Manufacturing Internships are Effective in the Cincinnati Region

Cincinnati Fan High School Internship Program


REDI Cincinnati’s Talent Director, Adam Jones, had an opportunity to speak with TechSolve Grant Program Manager, Traci Spencer, City of Mason Corporate Growth Strategist, Jessica Johnson, and Cincinnati Fan CEO, Paul Burton, on how The Ohio MEP High School Internship Program is supporting high school students and companies right here in the Cincinnati region. Read (and listen) as they speak on the program’s history and its success for companies in our region.

Take a listen to the full Q&A, below. 


  • 1. Can you tell us more about The Ohio MEP High School Internship Program and how it came to be?

    Traci Spencer, TechSolve: TechSolve is the Southwest Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and we are part of a larger MEP network across the country. We are here to serve small and medium-sized companies and their needs in the Cincinnati region. We know that to both improve and grow, companies need to have a strong workforce. TechSolve is here to support the current and future workforce.

    We’ve seen a lot of success celebrating Manufacturing Month in the Cincinnati region in October and Manufacturing Day (which is the first Friday of the month in October). It is one thing to visit a manufacturer and quite another to have the opportunity to work in a company and truly get to know the heart of the manufacturer (which is its leadership, its talent pool, and what it does on a day-to-day basis).

    The Ohio MEP looked at the funding and decided it needed to encourage manufacturers to engage with talent at a high school level. We set up the High School Internship program for two reasons. One, we always want to benefit the manufacturer and provide them with a talent pool that can help them. Two, this program benefits the students. Ben Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.” We see this program as a win/win opportunity for the employer and the student – an opportunity that can lead a student down a manufacturing career path with full-time work. Students are learning that manufacturing is not a dark, dirty, dangerous career – that there’s innovation and a diversity of technologies and opportunities available to them.

  • 2. Paul, how did Cincinnati Fan first get involved in the Ohio MEP High School program? And, how did you debunk the safety concerns that some of your peers might have had with bringing students in?

    Paul Burton, Cincinnati Fan: We first learned about the program through a meeting with the Advanced Manufacturing Industries Partnership. They announced the opportunity at one of their meetings and I reached out to Traci Spencer right away. From there, Cincinnati Fan got enrolled in the program.

    You know, we never had a safety concern. We do a lot of safety training. We feel it is our responsibility to both educate our workers to be safe and to provide safe environments for them to work in. One of the things we did with our program early on was set up our interns or co-ops with mentors. During this program, we created a team leader. Our interns were already working in welding at school, so we took their school experience and paired it with a seasoned welder and told the mentor it was their responsibility to teach and grow these students into becoming very proficient in their tasks and their trade.

  • 3. We applaud you for this approach, Paul. I advise companies all the time – you must have a farm system just like in baseball for developing your talent and that is what Cincinnati Fan is doing. Can you speak to the program’s success in your company? What surprised you most about the talent?

    Paul Burton, Cincinnati Fan: We currently have four students in the internship program that we have employed. We generally hire them as seniors in high school. We have had a lot of interactions with regional tech schools like Butler Tech, Warren Country Career Center, The Great Oaks Group, and others. Most of these students are taking welding in a tech vocational program. The seniors start with us at the beginning of their senior year and finish in May. We have a second shift that enables them to go to school full time during the day and work 20 hours a week, Monday – Thursday for five hours a day. It gives them the time and space to figure out if this profession is something they really want to do.

  • 4. Jessica, Cincinnati Fan is in the City of Mason and you’ve seen a growing number of manufacturing companies over the last few years, can you share why and how programs like these are supporting growth in Mason and the region in general?

    Jessica Johnson, City of Mason: We have seen incredible growth in the region and City of Mason with companies from industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and MedTech. We all know that manufacturing is part of our region’s legacy. And we are all here today because we know it will be our region’s future. We want this sector to be healthy and for companies like Cincinnati Fan to continue to invest and create jobs – and for new companies moving to Mason.

    In the past 18 months, the City of Mason has had four project announcements. Three of those were manufacturing companies that will be new to the City of Mason. Those projects equate to 500 new jobs and $200 million in investment. The fourth project is a manufacturer that is expanding in Mason.

    That tells us that manufacturing is here to stay and is healthy in our region. But, sustained talent is critical to this discussion. There is a skills gap and perception issue, nationally. I believe the numbers from The National Manufacturing Association cite the industry will be short 2 million people by 2030 if nothing is done. That is why we are so passionate about programs like the Ohio MEP High School Internship Program. Through innovative policy and on-the-ground programs that are attracting, training, and retraining talent – we are building a sustainable model to support the community and businesses in this region.

  • 5. There is a talent shortage that is not specific to this region. What is specific to this region is what you all are doing to collaborate and address it. This program is one way to address it and you have forward-thinking companies like Cincinnati Fan that are taking advantage of it. Traci, if regional manufactures would like to get involved in The Ohio MEP High School Internship Program, what are the next steps?

    Traci Spencer, TechSolve: It is as easy as contacting me at 513.582.4745 or emailing me at

    The Ohio MEP High School program reimburses the manufacturer for part of the cost of the high school students’ salary. We can match up to $1,500 – a 50% match. So, as soon as those students hit $3,000 in wages, we have the manufacturer send us what they use to track the hours internally so that we have verification on the students’ hours. Once I have that, I can invoice the state.

    We want to reward manufacturers for being forward-thinking. And for people like Paul who truly embrace the program, hopefully, this helps offset the cost of it.

    Paul has gotten his interns, but some manufacturers are very focused on day-to-day operations and they do not have time to reach out, or, they don’t have a dedicated HR person to help. We provide that assistance if the manufacturer needs it. TechSolve is here to make the program as easy and administratively not burdensome as we possibly can.

  • 6. Paul, why should the future workforce come to Cincinnati Fan?

    Paul Burton, Cincinnati Fan: It starts with our core values – everyone matters, play for each other, take ownership, do what’s right, embrace challenges and be open to change. We try and drive those concepts throughout the organization. Our tagline is to inspire engagement so that the power of the workforce delivers superior products and services in air movement.

    We believe by building a high-performing workforce it benefits the employee, our company, and our Customers. We spend a lot of time and resources to grow our leadership team to enable this environment. Additionally, we promote from within and post all jobs so that employees have the opportunity to grow their skills, become more valuable and increase their wages. We also have a very good benefits program and competitive compensation including profit sharing.

    Lastly, it all comes down to our wall of service which is the milestone anniversary pictures of our employees. Every five years we take a picture, give a small check, and take them out to lunch. We have employees with 25-40+ years of service on that wall, so there must be something that keeps people coming here to stay.

For more information on the Ohio MEP High School Internship Program visit: