It’s no secret that the Millennial generation has been hit particularly hard by today’s high unemployment. According to a recent study from Accenture, 61 percent of 2012’s graduating class of college seniors did not have jobs lined up when they graduated. Further, a Pew Research Center study found that 36 percent of people age 18 to 31 were living with their parents in 2012.

Kona Ice CEO Tony Lamb sympathizes with Millennials and has initiated a new entrepreneurial internship program designed specifically for these young men and women.

“These college graduates come out, and they've got these very expensive degrees and really no true opportunity,” Lamb says. “I figure, if I can share my knowledge and put it to use with their boundless energy and their tenacity and all of their aspirations, then man, what a lethal combination.”

The Kona Ice Internship Program is a two-year mentorship program that allows candidates to work off their $20,000 franchise start-up fee. Based on the individual's geographic location, interns will be paired with a local Kona Ice franchisee to help plan, maintain, schedule, and grow the local operation. Starting as a driver, the intern will work his way up the Kona career path.

Interns attend Kona Kollege after completing the program and have the opportunity to earn a territory and start their own shaved-ice truck.

“When these college students were graduating and looking for things to do, it just seemed like a crime to take these kids that were so educated in my business and let them go,” Lamb says. “We decided to put something together that would one, go after the absolute best and brightest of the people out there—the college students—and two, provide us a continual growth model for the company as we have these people who come in and learn our business from the ground up.”

Lamb says the idea for the internship came from his personal experience with then-college student Derek Taylor. Taylor worked for the company every summer throughout college and became a franchisee when he graduated. To show his appreciation, Lamb split equity with Taylor, who is now a thriving franchisee in Evansville, Indiana.

An internship experience is essential to becoming a successful franchisee at a young age, Lamb says.

“Becoming an entrepreneur is a lot of trial and error, and a lot of mentoring, and a lot of experiences. It's not, ‘Hey I read this textbook, now I can become an entrepreneur’—it's not that easy,” Lamb says. “I think that mentoring and internship programs have to be in place before we can inspire entrepreneurship.”

Lamb says the Kona Ice internship is the perfect opportunity for recent graduates looking to take a risk in the business world.

“You operate with a huge net, you are basically building this business under the guidance of someone who has all the financial obligation,” Lamb says. “You are operating without all of the financial pitfalls. You haven't had to invest any money yet, but you're basically getting to the point quickly where you're running the business.”

Kona Ice executives enlisted Northern Kentucky University professors to assist in developing the internship curriculum, which focuses on accounting and computer skills.

After announcing the new Kona Internship experience in the company-wide newsletter, Lamb says, he received numerous program inquiries.

“People are saying, 'Quickly get us the information so we can start, because we've got college-aged students already at work, and we want to put them on this program,’” he says. “We're really excited about it, because the response has been overwhelming at this point.”

By Marlee Murphy

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Employee Management, Finance, News, Kona Ice