The Medical Alley Podcast, presented by MentorMate

The Value of Internships with Carolyn Baldus, Director of Communications, Minnetronix Medical

March 11, 2024 Medical Alley
The Medical Alley Podcast, presented by MentorMate
The Value of Internships with Carolyn Baldus, Director of Communications, Minnetronix Medical
Show Notes Transcript

Not all internships are created equally. Minnetronix Medical — a medical device contract manufacturer — has had its internship program in place for decades, but the pandemic shifted the way the company approaches its internships. Students who work for Minnetronix end up getting valuable hands-on experience, impactful mentorships, and the ability to explore what they're most passionate.

On this week's episode of the Medical Alley Podcast, Carolyn Baldus of Minnetronix Medical joins to share more about how the company's internship program has evolved over the years, and shares success stories of its program — including receiving over 800 applications for 30 positions.

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Ben Wagner  01:22

Hi, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Medical Alley Podcast. I'm your host, Ben Wagner. And today we're talking about internships and how they fuel the next generation of the Medical Alley workforce. So many companies are rethinking this experience to keep students more engaged, to provide more meaningful learning opportunities and to prepare them for the dynamic landscape and health and life sciences industry. One of these innovative companies is Minnetronix Medical, a medical device engineering firm based right here in Medical Alley. And we're delighted today to be joined by Carolyn Baldus, the company's director of communications. Carolyn, it's great to be with you today.

 Carolyn Baldus  02:00

Thank you for having me.

 Ben Wagner  02:01

All right. So let's let's kind of lay the foundation here. We'll first start off with who is Minnetronix Medical? What do you guys do so well.

 Carolyn Baldus  02:09

So Minnetronix really serves a unique role in the medical device industry, and especially here in the Medical Alley. Our teams design, develop and manufacture medical technologies for about 85 different med device companies around the US and a handful outside of the US. And what makes us a little bit different is that among those 85 devices that we're doing, none of them carry our own label. But we're working with these companies, many of them in startup mode. So very early stage all the way through to the global companies, where there might be a next generation, we're helping them design. And then on the manufacturing side of our business, commercial manufacturing, we have about 45 different devices that we are we are producing and shipping to hospitals and clinics and to our customers. So everything we do has software and electronics embedded in it. These are pretty complex systems that we're either designing or manufacturing. And we have teams that really specialize in four different technology areas. So optical systems, anything that's used inside the body, fluids and gases, stimulation, and wearable devices, think glucose monitors. And then finally, RF energy based systems. So surgical energy. And those are, you know, as small as a glucose wearable within these four technology areas, all the way up to cart based systems. So pretty impactful what we get to do. In a year, we ship about 33,000 medical devices out on the commercial side of our business. And then the development teams are also working on about 40 plus new projects, and many of them kind of cutting edge technology. And that's a lot of teams working together to make all of this happen.  Highly collaborative business.

 Ben Wagner  03:52

I imagine. How important, maybe this is a dumb question, but I'm going somewhere with this. How important is your team and the people and sort of the talented pool of people that you draw from to work at Minnetronix?

 Carolyn Baldus  04:06

Yeah, so exceedingly important because our team is our business. So what we provide is a service to other companies. And so having a highly engaged, highly collaborative team is really critical. So we invest really significantly in our corporate values, our culture, and we hire based 50% on cultural fit, because we need a team that works really well together. So skills and capabilities are extremely important to us. But equally important is that you've got the right mindset and value alignment with our company. 

 Ben Wagner  04:41

So, you know, what I was getting to here is kind of this this component of workforce, right? We hear so many leaders talking about, you know, workforce and making sure they have the talent to fuel this next generation is one of their biggest challenges that they have. Is that something that you're seeing as well? 

 Carolyn Baldus  05:00

Absolutely. When you look at last year, you know, literally historic record low unemployment in Minnesota and DEED reported that the highest demand on talent was in manufacturing, engineering and technology. It also was the greatest deficit of talent. And that's our company, right? We compete with all the customers we serve, as well as many other, you know, businesses within the Medical Alley for that same talent. So, you know, we are constantly challenging ourselves to think creatively about how to attract top talent as our business grows.

 Ben Wagner  05:33

So Carolyn, we often think of internships as a place where maybe, if you're a student, you get a desk, you're handed some paperwork, you clock in, you clock out, and there's your experience, put it on your resume. Right? At least that was some of my internships, and some were great, some weren't. And Minnetronix though is thinking differently. I'm wondering if you could take us through kind of your internship program and how it evolved, how it came to be and what problem you were really looking to address.

 Carolyn Baldus  06:06

Sure. So we have had an internship in place for decades. But what the change came for us was in the pandemic, or in the months leading into that first summer of the pandemic. So in 2020, we had, you know, a typical group of 10-plus interns coming to join our company, which was generally the number we had every year, largely engineering students. And we found that as other companies were making the decision that they couldn't be running an internship program in the early months of the pandemic, we had students coming to us looking for opportunities. And some of that came from our people. Some of that came from interns that were coming or had worked with us. And we really challenged ourselves in that moment to think, could we expand what we've done? We have all of this great talent that sort of landed at our doorstep asking for an opportunity. And really we took advantage of that opportunity and said, Let's go bigger. And remember, too, that everybody had just learned how to use Teams and other ways of working remote. So it challenged us to think not only could we expand the program in terms of numbers, but could we expand the program in terms of the universities that we might be partnering with and students that were living in other states? And we did that. So you know, within our optical systems group, we started looking at the University of Rochester, where they have optics and optomechanical engineering majors. And could we tap into students out there? And so we that was the first opportunity for us to really think a little bit more broadly. And in that year, we ended up bringing — we almost tripled the number of interns we brought in for that summer. Most of them did come to Minnesota. We did have some roles that you just can't do remote. But then others we turned on software engineers could work from almost anywhere. So that was the beginning of sort of the 2.0 of our internship program. And with that, we started thinking a lot more significantly about how do you create a program that sets you up not only for a potential pipeline of talent, but also how does it benefit the students in a way that is really creating meaningful learning? And I would argue that our program has always done that. We've never had intern projects, they've always been part of project teams or program teams or, you know, working over in the manufacturing floor. So I think one of the important things about how we think about our program is how do we set a student up for success? How do we design a program that looks at not only the work they're going to do, but the people that are going to support them, and the opportunity for more holistic learning about business and about career paths. So we took that broader look, and started chunking it out. So what is the work they're going to do? How does it match their skills and capabilities? Because they're going to be on project teams. They are they are on the design side. They're building. On the manufacturing side, they're building. So how do we make sure that their skills match the work? And secondly, how do we pair them with a mentor who has the energy, the mindset, the skill set to really be, you know, in the pocket with the students during the summer? Internships require a lot of energy. And, yeah, and I think that it can often be a defining point of success for companies is do they really set them up with somebody who has the time, the energy and the mindset, to help them learn and help them be productive? So we do a lot of training with our mentors, we really try to set them up. We never have a problem getting them. I think they've all loved working with these smart students. And then third is we have a group called Leap, and they are young professionals that are within the first 10 years of their careers, and they partner with them as a buddy so that somebody who's a little bit closer proximity of age that you're not maybe afraid to ask the questions of and you know how to things work around here. And that creates both a social element and just kind of a nice sort of junior mentor opportunity. We also really encourage our students to think about what they're interested in learning about when they're with us. So we want to teach them about the business. And we have ways that we do that through programming during the summer. And that includes everything from our strategy to our culture, you know, to where we're going as a business, but it's also encouraging them go put time on people's calendars, what do you want to learn? Who do you want to learn from? Is it about career exploration? Is it just about understanding how a business works, and they do that, and that's been a really phenomenal opportunity, I think, for us and for our people to that maybe aren't mentoring, to meet them, the interns and get in the pocket with them. But it's also shown us that the internship is working in that there are students as a learning opportunity, that there are students who realize, I thought I wanted to be a manufacturing engineer, but after spending time talking to supply chain people, that's really where I want to go. So I'm really proud of our of our broader company for always being willing to spend time with the students and help engage with them. And then finally, we do a program throughout the summer, it's a lunch with leaders. And it's not the executive team. It is people that we've identified as leaders. They could be, you know, an individual contributor, but we see them as a leader in the organization and whatever role they play. And so it's an opportunity every week for the students to brown bag it and come hear from people about their career journey. This feedback from the students is usually we need to know that this isn't completely a linear path that we're stepping on to. And so they get to hear about all the great twists and turns and, you know, how did our Director of Marketing go from being a mechanical engineer at Michigan to the Director of Marketing at Minnetronix? What were those steps in between?

 Ben Wagner  11:42

Interesting. Well, it provides that pathway. At least it gives a visual like, if I'm here, it doesn't necessarily mean I have to end up here. Which can be kind of a scary thought for a student who's 21, 22 and thinks they know  where they're going, but maybe is a little uncertain. 

 Carolyn Baldus  12:09

Well, I think in an environment to that has said to them, since they were freshmen in high school, you have to have your life journey mapped out, right? Where are you going to college? What are you going to do after that? And when they come out of these sessions, and the feedback we get at the end of the summer session is, you know, that is one of the most impactful experiences that they have is hearing from people about the different journeys. And again, this is cross functional that we bring people in. So they're also getting to hear about what work looks like in different parts of our business.

 Ben Wagner  12:36

And I wonder about that, too, because, you know, you mentioned this program kind of taking on a 2.0 in the middle of the pandemic. And I can't think of a group that was more impacted in a social and cultural way than students. If you were in school during the pandemic, and your life went from in person to virtual altogether, and you lost that component of community, and you lost it in school, and you lost it in work, too. And so now you're bringing them back into the office and letting them kind of integrate with your own teams. I'm wondering if you've seen any kind of results or like success from that level of community, like you're here, learn how to, you know, put time on people's calendars, or learn how to ask for meetings, or how to go from one team to the next and to collaborate in person, which I think is such a valuable skill still, that you don't want to lose on these young people who are just starting their careers. 

 Carolyn Baldus  13:39

Yeah, and I do think — I have four young adult children, two of whom were in high school, two of whom were in college. My eldest graduated from college in my basement. Not ideal. There was a lot of loss of learning there. And some of that is social. Some of that is, is you know, skills and things like that. But yeah, I think what we have seen in the years, again, we stayed active during the pandemic, with the students. But there's just that energy of they're backl, they're together. We carry between 30 and 40 every summer now, and some of them stay with us year round. But I think that just ability to do hands on work and learn that way is probably very satisfying for students who missed a lot of that. And I mean, just naturally, that is the kind of work we have. But yeah, I think being able to all be together, and there's a really wonderful natural thing that happens when you've got a group of that size. The HR intern acts as the program coordinator for the program. That's part of their learning program for the summer. And so there's just a really wonderful chemistry that is partly social. It's partially the learning that they're sharing across the functional groups that they're reporting to, but these students tend to sit kind of close to each other. We have what we call the intern area that is very much integrated into our office or our campus but gives them a chance to just kind of be together, probably something that they didn't have for several years.

 Ben Wagner  15:04

So I'm wondering about results. You know, how have, as you've been tracking this for the last couple of years, has it provided that pipeline from, you know, from school into your workforce? And then I'm wondering on the back end to are you also seeing students who they were friends with that were maybe a grade or two below, saying, oh, I want to be an intern now at Minnetronix?

 Carolyn Baldus  15:29

So I'll start with the last piece, which is, you know, when I joined the company, nine years ago, we used to send I was not part of the HR team at the time, but we used to send teams out to the universities that we partner with to recruit for interns, for new graduates. And while we maintain those are very important relationships for us to continue, we have had the greatest group of brand ambassadors doing a lot of our recruiting for us. And so, you know, last year for 30 positions, we had over 400 applications. And so we feel very, very fortunate that the students are having such a good experience with us. And I really, again, credit all the team that interface with these students in the summer and during the year for helping create such a good experience that they're going out and talking about it. So we've been very, very lucky with that. I think, you know, for us, it is a very important pipeline for full time hires. And so again, that's another source of, you've got this wonderful population of students that many of whom would like to come with us full time and where we have the options, they are absolutely our first choice.

 Ben Wagner  16:36

Well, that's great. And I imagine it's also got to be so rewarding for your younger, you know, you mentioend the LEAP program, which involves some of those younger professionals who are in the infancy of their own career, but have knowledge they want to share and maybe have that bit of information that maybe that their older colleagues don't have, that they can connect with these younger students in a way that's more meaningful.

 Carolyn Baldus  17:02

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's part of why the pairing there, right, and they do a resume roast with the rise students before they leave and spend time just looking at their resumes and going through those. But the LEAP team, in addition to you know, just providing that sort of junior mentorship, and the social element for them, they've taken another step in helping us outside of the RISE program, but as a feeder to the RISE program and for full time work. They have developed a very strong partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools and part of our corporate commitment, both from from talent and just, you know, to serve the community in which we operate, is to really expose a broader population of students to careers in STEM. And so the LEAP team has developed learning modules to supplement learning, especially with Project Lead the Way and with STEM related courses in the St. Paul public high schools. So we have students that come onto our campus and they're in the labs with the LEAP team. Additionally, they'll go and be in classroom to supplement whatever that teachers learning so the teacher can look at our module selection and say, this would be a really important hands on supplemental learning opportunity for my students. We hope those students are going to find that spark. And when they're in there, you know, headed into their sophomore, junior senior year of college, they may say or at a technical school, I think I might want to go work at Minnetronix. I think there's also another thing I want to make sure I add to how we rethought the RISE program. So pandemic, huge opportunity for us. Then we all experienced the great resignation and talent was really hard to find. So for us having built that solid foundation of the RISE program, we expanded that where we had traditionally kind of looked at a four year university experience and said, How do we partner with the great technical schools here in the Twin Cities? Dunwoody became our first. Proximity was really close, and had a wonderful relationship with them. How can we provide specific jobs for your students under the RISE umbrella so that they're doing meaningful work, you know, as opposed to maybe retail, if they're doing something there where they want to get into be a service tech or things like that. So we created Dunwoody RISE program positions, especially in manufacturing. And additionally, we started looking at our community partners and in some cases, the organizations that were trying to train up first generation or newly immigrated citizens to manufacturing jobs. So we started talking to them more about how can we bring people into meaningful work. And so the RISE program expanded well beyond just thinking of a classic four year degree opportunity to a flexible learning work environment.

 Ben Wagner  19:55

Interesting. And I know this is still kind of — this is only a few years old, but I'm wondering if you have any results or anything that you're tracking to, that if somebody's listening, they can say, Oh, I need to do this, too. What's been the success of it so far even in its first couple of years? 

 Carolyn Baldus  20:11

Yeah, I think, you know, to your earlier question, the number of people who want to come be part of our program, I think speaks volumes about the students who've experienced it, and that it is a very positive experience for them. It's certainly a positive experience for our company. And I think, you know, in terms of complete metrics, we're not tracking that as much as we are, that the results are these students are contributing in a meaningful way to our business. So I'll give you two kind of fun examples of things that have happened in the last year. So we had an electrical engineering student who was with us for two summers. He went back to start his senior year this year. And we had a project team that was facing a very aggressive deadline on the development side of our business with a customer. And when they built out their team, and they had eight weeks to get this piece of the work done, he was part of the team. So they realized that the skill set that he brought could uniquely satisfy that portion of the work. And so it's a great model of turning back on right, let's bring, let's bring Michael back. And he was on the team and helped them successfully get to that deadline. That's a win for all of us. Secondly, one of our optics interns last year, so an optics engineer, in exploring the different parts of the business, had a conversation with our director of marketing and said, I love doing videos, I love doing logos. Do you need anything? And so after he finished his summer, he did a few videos for us, we kept him on as a marketing intern for the year and he's doing all of our company videos now. And he's done several logos for us that we've needed designed in house. So it's a great way to look at, you know, somebody who's getting to explore and advance their own skill development, but really satisfied a great business need for us that, you know, was certainly very cost effective. 

 Ben Wagner  21:55

Wow, that's gotta be I mean, aside from the, you know, the resume, building components of all that, that's got to be just such a valuable experience for students to feel like they're, they're actually doing something

 Carolyn Baldus  22:05

Well, and to see their work, you know, out there. So whether it's a project that you go, now you see the project launch over into commercial manufacturing, or, you know, you met the deadline and the customer's happy, or, you know, my material is out on the company website or on our social channels. Yes, I think very gratifying. 

 Ben Wagner  22:22

That's very cool. And I wonder, you know, I can I can see, the way that you're even speaking about this is it's got to be a point of pride for Minnetronix. You know, how have you seen that kind of percolate among your current workforce that they get to almost give back and away throughout the, through these various programs?

 Carolyn Baldus  22:40

I think when the students arrive on campus, there's just a great energy and our team is excited to welcome them. We have a whole wall that has wonderful posters of each student that are designed by one of the students. You know, little information, and you see everybody stopping by the wall to see who are the students this year. And so there's that great energy. I think, you know, the pride too, is that ability to interact with them. And that we we bring on this workforce that, you know, isn't just tucked away doing something that's going to get put on a shelf when they leave. But what are we going to learn from them this year, and you know, on the HR side of it, we've had some good undergrad and graduate students who taught us a lot about their learnings in DEI and talent acquisition, helping us think maybe a little bit differently. So those perspectives that they bring is great, but we do feel good about it. We feel good about, I think what we've helped expose students to and I think, for students, it is the chance to be in work that is so meaningful. I mean, it's the Medical Alley, right? And it's that chance to know that at the end of your summer, you can go back and say, what I did mattered, I was a meaningful contributor on a team and on a project, and I got to help design or manufacture something that is going to help improve life for this person in this way. And I think we feel really good about that. I think they feel good about that. But it's been a great, a great experience for all of us. 

 Ben Wagner  24:10

That's great. I'm gonna ask you to kind of pull out your crystal ball here for the last question. I'm just curious about as internship programs like this are evolving, how do you see that that evolution continuing maybe 5, 10 years down the line with more integration of technology or just to meet the demands of your company and your business?

 Carolyn Baldus  24:33

That's a great question. And I think we do think that way, and especially as we're organized around technology segments, or these, you know, these kind of key focus areas for us. So it's pushing ourselves to think, you know, talking earlier about AI, right, how do you start looking at students that come, whether it's at the graduate level, or the undergraduate level, that have that knowledge and really the freshest learning on a lot of this. And so how do we continue to push ourselves to think about where we specialize, where we can use that talent and that that perspective and that skill that they're coming with. How do we partner with universities differently? And so I think that's a big focus for us. I think the other one is also around corporate responsibility. And how do we continue to push ourselves to think about, again, exposing a broader population of young people to careers, whether it's a four year degree or you want to work in service, or in a technical capacity in production, those are super valuable careers. And there's a lot of growth option there at a company like ours. So how do we how do we push ourselves again to just maintain and continue to develop those relationships so that we're not just limiting ourselves to the very easy and obvious solutions for for talent? 

 Ben Wagner  25:50

Well, it's a really innovative program, and really glad to hear that it's doing well. And that it's really kind of working in service to not just the young people coming in, but to your to your current staff, too, because it is important work.

 Carolyn Baldus  26:02

Well, thank you. And we appreciate the time to tell the story. As you said, we're pretty proud of what we've built and pretty proud of the team that's helped build it. 

 Ben Wagner  26:09

Well, thank you for being part of this podcast. That's Carolyn Baldus. She's the director of communications for Minnetronix Medical. Thanks to her for being for being part of this latest episode of the Medical Alley podcast. A reminder, you can find us on our website, medicalalleypodcast.org, or wherever you find your podcasts, Apple, Spotify, and a number of others. With that. I'm your host Ben Wagner. Have a great day.