Recruiting Purdue University students as summer interns has made a measurable impact on Greater Lafayette’s only Fortune 1000 company. Now there are even more student opportunities at Wabash, which is launching a co-op pilot program during the 2023-24 academic year.
Why Wabash values Purdue students
Wabash is a world-class manufacturer of advanced engineered solutions and services for transportation, logistics and distribution industries. Forbes, Newsweek, FreightWaves and IndustryWeek have recognized Wabash as a top U.S. manufacturer on their annual lists.
In May, Newsweek named Wabash one of “America’s Greatest Workplaces for Job Starters,” one of only seven Indiana companies named to the list. Kyle Richmann, talent acquisition manager at Wabash, said the company’s robust internship program developed within the past three years has contributed to Wabash’s success.
“We have had 70 summer student interns in total, with 65 being Purdue University students,” Richmann said. “While the majority are engineering majors, our interns have majors across a wide variety of disciplines. They engage in multiple functions throughout the business including IT, human resources, finance, project management and data analytics positions.”
Richmann said most of the summer interns are sophomores entering their junior year or juniors entering their senior year. There have been some freshmen and master’s degree-level students in the program, too. All of them work on dedicated projects during the summer, looking for practical solutions to real-time challenges that Wabash faces.
“We can place a dollar value on the impact interns are making,” Richmann said. “For example, we had an intern in product engineering who identified a welding solution that saves Wabash $100,000 a year in warranty claims.”
“Another intern with the operations team saved Wabash time and resources by identifying inefficiencies in our forklift routes. The intern placed a GoPro on a forklift to watch and record where our forklifts traveled throughout a normal shift. After reviewing this footage, they were able to map out a more efficient route to take during an eight-hour shift, which resulted in us only needing three drivers instead of five. Since then, we’ve reallocated our other two employees to other areas where they are most needed.”
Richmann said Wabash values Purdue University students not only for their education but their willingness and ability to solve problems.
“Purdue students are problem solvers. That’s important to us because one of the leading principles at Wabash is ‘Be Curious,’” Richmann said. “Purdue students are curious and want to dive headfirst into problems and find solutions. Of all the great qualities Purdue students bring to the table, that one really stands out. We look for that trait in all our employees, too.”
Why Purdue students value Wabash
Codey Begley and Benjamin Zirkle are two recent Purdue alumni who were summer interns at Wabash. Begley graduated in May 2022 with a multidisciplinary technology degree with a focus on supply chain from the Purdue Polytechnic Institute; Zirkle graduated in December 2022 with a degree in industrial management from the then-Krannert School of Management, now the Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business.
Begley had broadly known of Wabash before applying for the internship program because he is from the Greater Lafayette area originally and has family members who worked for the company during its earliest years. Zirkle knew Wabash was a trailer manufacturer from seeing its logo on trailers on the road. After a friend recommended that he apply for Wabash’s internship program, he visited the company’s LinkedIn page to learn more.
Begley was a production supervisor intern, overseeing trailer parts being built. When he worked as a fill-in supervisor for the assembly line on weekends, he saw those components going into the build of actual trailers for customers.
Zirkle was a production intern, leading a group of 20 to 30 people who, in some cases, were three times his age. That level of responsibility helped him quickly strengthen his soft skills, including communication and leadership.
“The best thing about the Wabash internship program is the relationships you build,” Zirkle said. “Not only did I build relationships with the other interns who were at school with me, who I probably had classes with but didn’t know until I started here, but I also built relationships with the employees at Wabash. I’m very grateful for them.”
Richmann said Wabash provides interns with real-world experience that can be shared on résumés and during job interviews, as well as additional opportunities to build skills, network and serve the community.
“During our dedicated lunch and learns, Wabash executives meet and speak with the interns. This is an opportunity for the interns to engage with and learn from senior leaders,” Richmann said. “At the end of the summer, the interns present their projects to a room full of about 50 people. This gives them public speaking experience, which is a skill every employer values. Our CEO brings these presentations to his quarterly review, so they are taken very seriously.”
Networking opportunities are also a key aspect of Wabash internships.
“Networking was a big topic of conversation at a lunch and learn earlier this summer: the purpose of building a network, how that network may benefit you in the future and how you can benefit someone else,” Richmann said. “And while there is a lot of work over the summer, we like to get out of the office and have fun. We’ve attended a Lafayette Aviators baseball game, and we have also done some volunteering. It’s all about getting to know one another and building relationships.”
From interns to full-time employees
Wabash strives to have interns work for the company after they have graduated. Upon completing their internships, Begley and Zirkle were hired as part-time Wabash employees. After graduation, they were hired full-time.
Begley is in the emerging leadership development program, rotating through different areas in the company. Currently, he is with the supply chain group for truck bodies, buying the extrusion parts for all the sites in the U.S.
“The transitions from intern to part-time employee and from part-time to full-time has been beneficial,” Begley said. “I learned how the business works, and by rotating through different areas now with my current job, I understand the business structure and culture even more.”
Zirkle is a production supervisor. He is responsible for everything that happens within his section of the assembly line, from managing a safe work environment and meeting the production schedule to maintaining quality product standards and managing other employees.
“I loved the team that I worked with as an intern; I’m still working with them now. Every day it’s fun to come to work. We do a lot to keep the camaraderie high,” Zirkle said. “Also, we’re starting a new line, so I’m excited to work on a project the size of which Wabash has never taken on before.”
Richmann said Wabash will complement its summer internship program to continue to develop its early career talent pipeline.
“We are launching a co-op pilot program,” Richmann said. “Interns work only over the summer, but a co-op project they can work in the fall and spring while they’re in school, and full-time over the summer.”
Recruiting summer 2024 interns
The current class of interns will conclude their work at Wabash in August. The company will have a very visible presence on the Purdue campus to begin recruiting the 2024 class in September.
“There are several ways students can learn about the Wabash summer internship program and our co-op pilot program,” Richmann said. “I welcome students connecting with me on LinkedIn; they also can find a lot of information on our LinkedIn career pages and our career site.”