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Summer intern season is here, and the North Dakota Department of Commerce is giving local businesses help with their hires this year.

North Dakota businesses looking to fill intern and apprenticeship positions can receive up to $20,000 in matching funds through Operation Intern, a program which taps businesses into an underutilized pool of candidates: high school and college students.

The primary focus of the program is to create internship positions in the state’s targeted industries: energy, advanced manufacturing, value-added agriculture, technology-based businesses and tourism. The program also gives priority to high wage and high demand industries from the medical field to information technology.

“Operation Intern was started in 2007 as a way to incentivize companies to keep some of the young people here, give them internships, work-based learning,” program administrator Jennifer Dahl said. “It has continued since then to kind of grow our own workforce.”

Funding from the program is awarded yearly as a one-to-one match. The funds are intended to be used training, wages, equipment or tuition reimbursement.

Operation Intern is aimed to expand North Dakota’s workforce, something local business owners say they appreciate.

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“We’re satisfied that we’re giving back. It’s about outreach and getting people into engineering, opening up opportunities for them,” said John Spilman, of Blacktrail Environment, a Bismarck-based engineering firm which took advantage of the program.

“The first person that Blacktrail hired with this program just graduated from engineering school and will be starting work with Union Pacific in Sacramento with a starting salary close to six figures," he said. "When she started with us, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. That’s why we do it.”

Operation Intern is part of a broader program from the Department of Commerce, North Dakota’s Strategic Plan for Workforce Development, a comprehensive plan focused around expanding and strengthening North Dakota’s changing workforce.

“We’ve seen a lot of people stay here in North Dakota and stay with the companies they’re interning with,” Dahl said. “Students are getting such a wide variety of real life experience with all the different companies evolving in North Dakota, so it’s kind of a win-win for the companies and the students.”

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