When contractors talk about the lack of skilled construction labor, they’re usually referencing laborers and equipment operators. But there’s another lack that is just as troubling to many of the contractors I talk with: the people needed to run a company, especially when there’s no apparent next generation.
Which is why I found being one of the judges of the inaugural Construction Intern Awards, sponsored by software provider HCSS, so intriguing. Presumably some of the contest candidates here will find themselves in construction company ownership positions in the coming years, along with those who rise from the labor ranks. The candidates, all college upperclassmen who had interned in a construction company this year, were asked to describe the main projects they worked on, and then answer four questions:
- What results did you achieve on the projects, and what impact did they have on the company?
- What real-life technical or business skills did you learn?
- What did you learn from this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
- Where do you think technology will make the biggest impact in construction in the next few years? How will it do that?
As I read through the answers of the 20 candidates that made it to the final judging round, I couldn’t help but be impressed. The contractors, as contractors are wont to do, truly put these interns to the test—and even in one case, over a job. “Within the first couple of weeks, I had learned more than I have in three years of college combined,” said one candidate, a construction management major working for a multifamily builder out of Indianapolis.
Several candidates cited equipment experience. One managed four intelligent compaction rollers on a 11-mile project in Oregon. Another became the heading engineer on a tunnel boring machine used on a Washington, D.C. wastewater treatment plant. And a third filled in for a foreman on a power plant job in Ohio, dumping Cat 631 scrapers and directing aggregate trucks.
This in-field experience also benefitted the employers. An Ohio State intern, noting that a company surveyor had to manually convert coordinates from one GPS system into another incompatible system, devised a way to automatically convert each number in Excel. Voila: hours of work saved.
One of my favorite comments came from a Texas A&M construction science major working on a schedule-intense Kyle Field project at his school. It reflects the work ethos I see in the contractors I meet: “The most important thing I learned from this internship is what it means to work hard,” he relates. “Working alongside a vice president of a multimillion dollar company with 40 years of experience at 9 p.m., peeling protective films off of food service equipment and sweeping kitchens, was unforgettable,” he relates.
Congratulations to Chase Ekstam, a Missouri State construction management major interning for APAC-Springfield, a branch of APAC-Missouri, winner of the $10,000 (yes, you read that right) grand prize. You can read Chase’s entry—along with all the others who entered at constructioninternawards.com. Beyond great reading, they’re also great resumes … perhaps for a position in your company.