Sheboygan company develops its own farm team

As INSpire Insurance Solutions has grown, so has the need for programers to develop software for the property and casualty insurance industry.
The Sheboygan location has gone from 85 employees in 1989 to 200 by 1998, says Rick Gaumer, vice president of support services.
But, it’s not enough. INSpire could use an additional 25 to 30 programers, but there is no one in sight to fill these positions. In response, INSPire decided to grow its own by recruiting students right out of high school to attend a newly-formed program at nearby Lakeland College which trains them in computer science, and gives them the skills they need to go to work for the company.
“We’d like to hire experienced people where we can find them, but the reality is we have to grow some of our own,” Gaumer says.
Lakeland College and INSpire have formed an alliance in which the company pays up to $6,000 of a student’s annual tuition in exchange for a commitment to work for the company, says Dirk Zylman, Lakeland’s director of development. For each year they work after graduation, they receive reimbursement of $6000 per year up to $30,000. The 16 students currently enrolled in the pilot program will go to school 12 months out of the year, and will take a curriculum geared to INSpire’s criteria.
The students are invited to company events, and receive internships at the company by their second or third year of college, Zylman says. The students must maintain a grade point average of 2.75 in order to stay in the program and get a job with the company. Lakeland hopes to recruit 30 students a year to enter the program.
“The hope is, by spending three years in the program, and by getting to know INSpire and getting to know the community, these people are going to want to stay in the area and become part of the community,” Zylman says. “Hopefully, they are here because they want to be here, and not just looking at this as a weigh station.”
The problem is that many information technology workers are seduced by offers from companies in larger metropolitan areas. This setup is intended as a “golden handcuffs” arrangement in that the students will feel some obligation to stay after going through the program and having part of their tuition paid by their future employer, Zylman says.
For those who want to move on, INSpire has offices in Fort Worth, Columbia, S.C., and San Diego, Gaumer says.
“It’s a win all the way around,” notes Zylman, a former Firstar banker. “For INSpire, it’s a pool of prospective employees who know the company. For Lakeland, it represents a steady stream of incoming students, and it’s a win for the community because they are going to be positive, contributing members.”

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