Because his company, Software Productivity Solutions (SPS), in Indialantic, Fla., occupies a new niche -- object-oriented software -- Ed Comer has had trouble finding people with relevant experience. So he gives people the experience himself through a university co-op program.

When $2.7-million SPS begins a new project, Comer calls the nearby Florida Institute of Technology, one of the more than 1,300 U.S. colleges that sponsor co-op interns. Computer-science professors send him rÉsumÉs of students, mostly seniors. Once hired, students typically work on teams for 20 hours a week at $10 an hour. Afterward Comer evaluates each student for the institute. Of the dozen co-op students he's employed, he's later hired half as full-time employees.

Comer sets goals for each intern. Some are specific to the business -- proficiency in a computer language, for instance. Others address initiative and communication skills: interns critique user manuals and make presentations on their work to managers and customers.

Interns are paired with mentors, senior engineers who have worked in a management role and are comfortable directing and critiquing. Mentors review interns' performance and tell Comer when an intern is ready for full-time work.

The National Society for Internships and Experiential Education (919-787-3263) distributes the National Directory of Internships ($22), in which companies may list their programs for free, and Effective Internship Supervision ($15).

-- Michael P. Cronin

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