Mitchell Int’l First in Industry to Host Goodwill Internship Program

Mitchell Int’l First in Industry to Host Goodwill Internship Program
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An internship program at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) is literally changing lives by providing invaluable work experience for young adults with disabilities. Now in its second year, the award-winning inclusion initiative also enhances the airport’s culture and provides concessionaires with a new pool of candidates to meet their workforce needs. 

When MKE approached its vendors about the Project SEARCH program, two industry leaders immediately stepped forward to participate: global restauranteur HMSHost, which operates more than half of the airport’s restaurants, and Paradies Lagardère, which manages almost all of its retail stores. Together, the two companies employed six interns for nine months, rotating students through three different 10-week paid work experiences. 

“One of the most pleasant surprises is the feedback we got from vendors in terms of how fulfilling it was for them to be involved in the project,” reports Airport Director Brian Dranzik. “The interns came to the airport willing to work, wanting to work and had a good attitude on a daily basis. They wanted to jump in and do anything. As we talked with the vendors, we’ve found that it had a lasting impact on their organizations.”

Employers participating in the program report that the interns bring an undeniable “x-factor” to their work. “I’m so pleased with the positive morale this has brought to our team,” says Lori Becker, general manager of Paradies Lagardère at MKE. “Everyone came together to help these interns and train them to be successful. The students are appreciative and want to learn. I’m very proud of how my team has stepped up and given back. The interns bring a ray of sunshine to the work atmosphere.”

The program has also garnered attention within the industry. MKE received first place in the “Partnering with Concessionaires/Service Providers” category at the 2018 Airports Council International-North America Marketing and Communications Conference in Ottawa.

Given the success of the first session, another group of six students is currently on the job, working from 16 to 30 hours per week at food/beverage and retail locations in the airport such as Famous Famiglia, Delta’s SkyClub, HMSHost’s Starbucks and French Meadow Bakery, and the Milwaukee Marketplace retail store.


Project: Internship Program for Young Adults with Disabilities 

Location: Milwaukee Mitchell Int’l Airport 

Program: Project SEARCH

Facilitators: WI Dept. of Workforce Development’s Div. of Vocational Rehabilitation; Goodwill Industries; Milwaukee Public Schools

Concessionaire Partners: HMSHost; Paradies Lagardère

Source for Intern Candidates: Milwaukee Public Schools

Project Scope: 6 students completed 9-month internships with concessionaires in 2017-2018; 3 secured employment at airport (at Paradies Lagardere warehouse; D terminal’s Milwaukee News; pre-security at CNBC & Milwaukee Marketplace); 2 are working elsewhere; 1 is pursuing further education. A new group of 6 more interns is currently in place.

Award: 1st place in “Partnering with Concessionaires/Service Providers” category at 2018 Airports Council International-North America Marketing & Communications Conference

Interns with the Project SEARCH program must meet the same badging requirements and follow the same safety and security procedures as all other employees at MKE. Milwaukee Public Schools provides a licensed special education teacher to lead the training and work at the airport. Goodwill Industries provides two skills trainers who work with the concessionaires to help facilitate on-the-job success for participants.

While MKE does not incur any direct costs associated with the program, it does furnish free office space for program use and provides staff and logistical support from its properties, operations and marketing/public relations divisions. 

New Frontier

Developed by Erin Riehle at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996, Project SEARCH is designed to provide job opportunities to young adults with developmental disabilities.

Nationally and abroad, Project SEARCH has over 600 sites located in 47 states and nine countries. MKE is Project SEARCH’s first airport site.

The Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) operates 27 Project SEARCH sites throughout Wisconsin, including the MKE site. DVR, a division of the state’s Department of Workforce Development, brought the nationally-recognized program to Wisconsin in 2008. 

“The airport is like a mini city,” says Christine Schulz, manager of community employment and connection for EmpowerOne at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin Inc. “There are opportunities for our young adults to participate, along with the high level of security and very strong expectations. So, we knew we had to bring in the right interns to do the job.”

Planning for the project began in late 2016 and carried into 2017. Paradies Lagardère and HMSHost received Project SEARCH national model training at MKE and participated in interviews and skills assessments with potential interns from Milwaukee Public Schools.

Goodwill provided disability awareness training to employees at Paradies Lagardère and HMSHost, and Milwaukee Public Schools provided an instructor for onsite classroom training for the interns. Milwaukee Public Schools also provided interns with tablets and other technology needed to participate in the program. 

After completing their training from Paradies Lagardère and HMSHost, interns perform daily tasks under the direction of supervisors, their Milwaukee Public Schools instructor and two Goodwill skills trainers. The first group of interns also had the opportunity to volunteer for the airport’s USO Christmas party, work in various Paradies tent sales and share their experiences at an airport/airline tenant meeting. MKE provided additional opportunities by taking interns on a tour of the air traffic control tower and a commercial airplane. 

“I think the enrichment activities put it all in context for the interns,” notes Dena Radtke, manager of social work and transition services for Milwaukee Public Schools. “They’re seeing how their role supports the larger mission of running the whole airport, and everyone has a role in making the airport successful.”

Challenges & Successes

Schulz acknowledges that the first session of the program included a substantial learning curve for all parties involved. To help interns acclimate to their new positions, Goodwill trainers held role-playing sessions for a variety of potential experiences, including security issues and customer service interactions. Goodwill also trained the interns on communication and meeting skills, creating PowerPoint presentations, teamwork, financial responsibility and job interviews. 

“We want them to be the most successful employees possible before they get into a permanent job once they complete Project SEARCH,” Schulz explains. 

After completing the work skills program, interns were recognized during a ceremony held at the airport in June 2018.  Rebecca Kleefisch, Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor at the time, delivered the keynote address. 

One of MKE’s goals for the first session of the program was 100% employment placement for participants. Earlier this year, five of the six original interns were working at least 16 hours per week, and the sixth was pursuing further education. Paradies Lagardère and HMSHost each hired one intern from the program, one student is working for Eulen America, which services the Delta SkyClub at the airport, and three parlayed their work experience at MKE into other jobs. 

Inspired by results of the first session, additional concessionaires are considering joining the program. Robert Kiepert, director of Operations for HMSHost at MKE, encourages more participation. “The biggest thing we found that was most beneficial is from Day 1, we communicated with Goodwill on a regular basis and connected with the teachers from Milwaukee Public Schools,” he says. “When more people get involved, it will just strengthen the program, and you can see the reward at the end of the year during the graduation program.”



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