COLLECTIVE THOUGHT: Christopher Guilmette, left, a 2012 Tech Collective Graduate Fellowship Program alum and Atrion SMB employee, with dedicated-service engineer Anel Perez.
PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
Chris Guilmette, a recent graduate of the New England Institute of Technology, likes to solve technical computer problems.
Affinity for the work and getting a job doing it are two different things, but Guilmette, like 13 others over the past two years, was hired by an employer after participating in the Tech Collective’s Graduate Fellowship program.
Though the number of participants so far has been small (five in 2012 and nine in 2013), the fellowship program for technology and bioscience boasts a nearly 100 percent rate of placement in jobs, either with the employer participating in the three-month, internship-style engagement, or with different employers afterward, said JoAnn Johnson, the Tech Collective’s manager of youth and education programs.
For Guilmette, 27, the aptitude for technology came young, when he would troubleshoot technical glitches on his mother’s laptop, he said.
He graduated from NEIT in 2012 with a degree in network engineering. During school, he couldn’t afford to take unpaid internships because he was managing supplies and inventory at a soccer warehouse in Foxboro, Mass., full time, he said. But he wanted to be employed in the field he studied, so as soon as he got the email blast to graduates from the Tech Collective about the fellowship, he applied.
While Guilmette’s fellowship was in the internal systems department for Atrion Networking Corp. of Warwick, the job he ultimately got was with Atrion SNB, an internal division of the parent company. He said he has been promoted twice since.
“It’s nice to see somebody giving me the opportunity and to get paid for it,” said Guilmette, who now lives in Attleboro.
The program works by “providing employers with the help they need, because we hear all the time about how employers can’t find the talent, the skills that they’re looking for,” Johnson said. “So, we’re matching the need the employer has with the need the graduate has.”
Rhode Island as a whole is trying to instill in employers the risk-taking necessary to invest in talented youth who may not yet have the experience to justify hiring them, said Kathie Shields, Tech Collective’s executive director.
The program connects recent Rhode Island college and university graduates with local information technology and bioscience employers, who submit open entry-level posts to the Tech Collective, which recruits and screens candidates.
Those candidates work for 10 to 12 weeks for up to 40 hours a week, and are paid a $600 weekly stipend. The host company pays half the stipend; the rest comes from a Governor’s Workforce Board Jobs Initiative Grant.
For 2014, the grant totals $152,000, with about $108,000 going directly into stipends, said Shields. Funding for previous years was comparable, she added.
By using an industry advisory group to identify open positions among employers, summarizing posts and alerting college graduates, then having staff match the skills of candidates with employers, the Tech Collective managed to effectively pair up students and employers, said Shields.
Two companies – Aipso, an insurance company with a large IT department in Johnston, and Tedor Pharma in Cumberland, developed internship programs in addition to the fellowships as a result of participating, Shields said.
Johnson said four of the five fellows in 2012 were hired full time, while the fifth changed the direction of his master’s degree.
In 2013, three IT companies and two bioscience firms participated in nine fellowships – two students at Ximedica in Providence; four students at Tedor Pharma; and one each at Aipso, Alert Solutions of Cranston and Absolute Commerce Inc. of Providence.
Eight of the nine stayed with an employer or moved on to a full-time position with another company, while one student went back to NEIT to pursue a master’s degree in computer science. •