Janice Claudio-Morales had no problem finding a job after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a computer engineering degree in 2005.

In fact, Claudio-Morales already had a full-time job lined up with Pratt & Whitney before she graduated, thanks to a workforce-development program called InRoads, which placed her in summer internships at the aircraft-engine maker while she was still in school.

InRoads, a nonprofit organization that provides leadership-development training for "underserved youth," according to its website, has become "one of the leading internship programs" for Pratt & Whitney's parent company, United Technologies Corp. (IW 500/21), says UTC Director of Workforce Diversity Dantaya Williams.

Some 300 former InRoads interns now hold permanent positions at United Technologies, Williams estimates.

The value of the program comes from its strict GPA requirements -- which vets the best and brightest for prospective employers -- and its focus on training promising students on how to conduct themselves personally and professionally in the real world, she adds.

"When these students come in for their internships, we can just focus on advancing and developing their technical skills," Williams explains. "We don't have to worry about professional skills or appropriateness at work and some of those things that 19- and 20-year-olds may struggle with early on in their careers."

Claudio-Morales notes that InRoads students must attend workshops and training sessions on evenings and weekends during their full-time summer internships, and participate in community-service projects.

But the payoff was worth the commitment, she adds.

"In Puerto Rico, our first language is Spanish, so I didn't know much English," she says. "Being an InRoads intern really helped me overcome those [communication] challenges, and gave me the confidence that I can transition from being a student to a professional."

Claudio-Morales now works at another United Technologies company -- Otis Elevator -- and volunteers as a facilitator for the InRoads summer workshops.

She also has gone back to the University of Puerto Rico to help recruit students for the InRoads program, which, Williams says, "feels like almost an extension of our organization because of the strong partnership."

Williams notes that United Technologies over the years has provided internships to more than 2,700 InRoads participants.

"So it's always a pretty good transition when we bring those students in, because they understand our culture and our process methodology, and they can really focus on developing those critical engineering skills," Williams adds.

Those critical engineering skills -- as we've heard time and time again -- are desperately needed in the manufacturing sector, and Williams notes that roughly 60% of the InRoads interns at UTC are studying engineering.

While Williams asserts that United Technologies does "a good job of bringing in experienced talent," the company views InRoads as "a primary source" of stocking the pipeline for entry-level positions, she says.

For Claudio-Morales, InRoads has been much more than that.

"For me, it's really been a life-changing opportunity," she says.