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Kokomo native finds career success after internships

Hiring Hoosiers
Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 10:40:42-04

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LAFAYETTE — Summer interns through IN-MaC, the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center, met in Lafayette at the conclusion of their summer internships at manufacturers across the state. The organization placed 75 students in summer internships at a variety of businesses, one of those is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Kokomo.

James Woolf does community educational outreach for FCA and he said there is important work being done by Hoosier hands like building transmissions for Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Chrysler that ship worldwide.

"Manufacturing makes our country strong," Woolf said. "We have to have that to be a strong state."

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FCA, like many other manufacturers, is looking ahead to the future and what the workforce will look like and so internships for prospective employees are very important. That's why FCA partners with IN-MaC to connect with students for summer internships.

"Our future workforce is very important to us, so this internship helps us glean young people at an early age and get them interested in manufacturing," Woolf said. "We're really looking at it them, who wants to stay with us, who do we want to continue to develop."

An internship is a chance for the company to essentially interview a student over the course of a few months. Plus, it gives younger students the opportunity to see if this career is the right fit and exposes them to the industry.

"They know what a doctor is, they know what a policeman is, they know these things. But they don't know what a manufacturer does," Woolf said. "They see these big buildings and think that its yucky inside. Well it's hospital clean, it's climate controlled, robotics — so once you get the young people in there, they really really love it."

Woolf says he sees many younger people have one impression of manufacturing, and that changes to something more positive when they actually see it in action because times have changed.

RELATED COVERAGE | Group connects students and manufacturers for summer internships

"So it's not just standing in one position all day long for 30 years," Woolf said. "The more education they get, from their associate's, to their bachelor's, their master's — the sky's the limit as to what they can do."

In manufacturing, a big element in the workplace is working on a team. A lot of the interns at FCA are in leadership and management roles, learning to manage people, machines and logistics.

Luke Shepard is a Kokomo native and he first became interested in working in manufacturing from watching family members go to FCA for their careers. He first stepped in the door as a job shadow during high school and later came back for internships and now a co-op, where he goes to school some days and works other days. His time at FCA has allowed him to better focus in his field of study and shift to a management and supervisor role from originally studying engineering.

"Going in you might think that this is what you want to do, but after the experience, you might see OK maybe ill go a different route or go this direction," Shepard said. "I think this will better suit me and my future."

Shepard graduated from Ivy Tech Kokomo and is now going back to school at IU Kokomo. On days he does not have classes he works as a maintenance planner at FCA.

"I try to get to work 30 mins early and get with the 3rd shift supervisor and talk with him and figure out, OK, was there anything crazy that happened last night that I need to know about?" Shepard said. "Or how do we handle this? Or is there anything that you are going to be bringing over to my shift that my guys need to finish?"

Most of the people who work under his supervision are old enough to be his parents even his grandparents, which can be intimidating, but Shepard says it's important to show them you care and are willing to learn from them.

"Going in there and actually building relationships with these guys and talking with them and knowing not just their work life but their personal life," Shepard said.

He also says it is a good feeling to know he is getting a degree without the debt and the money he is making now can go into savings.

"Because now when I'm working in my co-op and everything and getting paid, I'm not worried about digging myself out of a hole," Shepard said.

For more information on how to take part in one of the 150 internships offered by IN-Mac in the summer of 2020, visit for more information on how to apply.

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