'Kids need to be exposed to Wichita careers': Summer Internships help Teens, Community
Article Categories: Youth
Article Tags: Youth Employment
Mayor Lily Wu

When Zack Williams of Valley Center was in his last year of high school, he didn't know what he was going to do next. All he knew was that he loved working with his hands.

It was 2018, and his best friend was in the same boat.

"One of my closest friends, his mom worked for one of those work-center facilities that help people find jobs. She called us up one day and said, 'Hey, they have some open interviews for some summer internships,'" Williams said. "What's the worst thing that could happen?"


Williams and his friend scored internships at Textron Aviation, with Williams working with sheet metals. The day after he completed his eight-week internship, he was hired on full-time, using his carpentry skills to create the interiors for planes at the company's interior center.

"I love my job," he said. "It's as amazing as it could be."

Williams was like thousands of high school graduates unsure of their futures.

Textron Aviation offers the largest internship program in the area, but other groups through the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas also offer internships.


Projected interns, locally 2024

RankPrior RankName / URL
Textron Aviation
Koch Industries
Adams Brown
View This List

In 2023, the Workforce Alliance connected more than 5,700 area students with internships, engaging 27 schools in 16 districts. In addition, the Alliance worked with more than 400 employers to bring opportunities to area students.

The Workforce Alliance, high schools and businesses are informing students about summer internships, with opportunities in finance, manufacturing, health care and public safety.

"It's making sure that youth understand that they can be in these spaces, and it's not abnormal, that you can be the CEO someday — that you can be that leader in whatever position, and that you can be a leader right now, too," said Wichita mayor Lily Wu, who participated in internships at KSNW-TV and Textron Aviation during high school. "Not only is it a sense of belonging, but it's a sense of possibility."

Wu said the possibilities represented by her internships motivated her.





Businesses and the community also benefit, said Keith Lawing, president and CEO of the Workforce Alliance.

"Kids need to be exposed to Wichita careers," he said. "If they have a relationship with an employer, even if they go off to college, they will likely come back here."

Lawing cited a 2022 Brookings report on youth summer internships in Boston that showed growing evidence around the correlation between crime and academic outcomes. The report focused on private-sector job placement and found positive effects on school attendance, course performance, test scores and high school graduation rates. It also saw a decrease in arrests.

Last year, the Wichita-area youth employment project helped students find jobs with area employers, including the Greater Wichita YMCA, Wichita Public Schools and other employers. The city of Wichita has its own internship program as well.

"There are multiple options," said Kelly Bielefeld, superintendent of the Wichita school district. "It's broader than aviation; it cuts across every sector."

Spirit AeroSystems, Professional Engineering Consultants, Dondlinger Construction, the Wichita Wind Surge and Heartspring offer internships, as do dozens of smaller companies, including those that have space for only one student. Some businesses only offer internships to college students, but many are there to help those in high school, as well. No matter the interest, said Workforce Alliance vice president and chief business development offer Amanda Duncan, the organization can match interns with the right businesses.

"We help them identify the right student," Duncan said. "The business signs up for the number of students they are willing to host in the summer, they are assigned a supervisor, and the student is aligned with that supervisor."