The University of Akron, shown here in a file photo, began offering microinternships in 2020.

The Greater Akron Chamber’s goal is explicitly laid out in bold white letters on the landing page of its website: Our work is sharply focused on the success of your business, your employees, and our region.

“I don’t know of a bigger issue for employers right now than the workforce,” said Steve Millard, the chamber’s president and CEO. “I don’t know of a more emotional issue for employers in our region than keeping our talent here.”

The chamber is introducing a new attempt to help address those issues for its more than 1,500 member companies. Officials are subsidizing up to $250 for a microinternship for members. These are short, fixed-term paid projects able to be completed independently by college students. Think things like content creation, market research and lead generation.

The hope is that it’s a win-win for all involved. Businesses get projects completed while connecting with students across the country. Those students, in turn, complete experiences that add to both their resumes and their bank accounts. Plus, there’s the potential of sparking a long-term job connection on both sides.

“It was a great low-stress way to gain experience with a company before pursuing a full time role. Almost like a ‘tryout,’” one student said in a 2021 Parker Dewey survey.

Large companies often have internship programs in place, where “they can spend the money to sort of test out candidates and create projects even when there might not be huge legit work there,” Millard explained.

It can be more difficult for smaller businesses to take on interns due to size and structure. Those companies are a lot more utilitarian, according to Millard. Tasks need to add up to results that help their business. He believes these microinternships can check off a few important boxes at once.

“It’s both a way of getting some small stuff done that might not otherwise get done and a way of evaluating talent and giving people a chance,” Millard said.

Chamber officials are offering the internship through Parker Dewey, which bills itself as a “mission driven organization.” Participating businesses set a fixed price — the typical range goes from $200 to $600 — for the project they’d like completed. Most can be done remotely over five to 40 hours.

Ninety percent of that money goes straight to students, or “career launchers” as the company calls them. The remaining 10% goes to Parker Dewey. The company pays the collegian directly.

Getting paid is an important step in removing the barrier between who gets experience — and perhaps ultimately advances — and who doesn’t.

Jeffrey Moss, founder and CEO of Parker Dewey, said a core mission of the company when it was founded seven years ago was to create equitable college-to-career paths for everyone.

Though most interns nationwide are white and male, Parker Dewey reports 80% of students who’ve worked with them come from an underrepresented background.

“So many of those students don’t have the same social capital coming in,” he said.

Moss called this new opportunity from the Akron chamber innovative. He said he appreciates it’s structured in a way that supports the small-business community, which might not have “the campus recruiting structures of the massive companies.”

It provides another way to engage with current college students without spending thousands of dollars on marketing events or campus visits. Plus, since most microinternships are remote, students from places outside of Ohio who work with an Akron-based company could form a connection. High school graduates from the Akron area who went away for college can get reacquainted with the region’s new current opportunities, too.

“It’s giving them exposure to those organizations they may not have been considering,” Moss said.

The University of Akron announced its partnership with Parker Dewey in September 2020. Officials wrote that it was a good option for students who saw internships or co-operative placements cut short or paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university is still working with the company two years later. Laura Carey, UA’s director of career services and student employment, said they suggest microinternships as a way to complement, not replace, longer internships or co-ops. These opportunities also allow students who work a full- or part-time job in addition to going to college a chance to build skills and supplement their resume.

Carey said she appreciates the chamber’s move to educate businesses. It’s still a fairly new concept. Yet students are very “savvy about wanting their resumes to have depth and have transferable skills,” said Carey, who added that these opportunities allow students to explore different careers and skills outside of their major.

“Students of this time period really like the gig economy,” she said. “They really like project work.”

Akron chamber officials said they’d be comfortable if 100 members took advantage of the incentive in the short-term. If the response exceeds that, they said they’d likely go find additional support to help fund it.

Amy Morona covers higher education for Crain’s Cleveland Business, in partnership with Open Campus. This story is part of Crain’s Cleveland Forum coverage, which is sponsored by The Joyce Foundation.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.