Internships – A Win-Win Proposition

It’s no secret that the construction industry is plagued with the problem of labor shortages. A 2020 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 81% of construction firms have trouble filling both salaried and hourly craft positions, and 72% anticipate labor shortages to be the biggest hurdle in the next year. The advent of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation over the last sixteen months, impacting workforce availability due to illness and the furlough of key skilled employees.

Internships – A Way to Address Labor Shortages Head-On

The labor shortage is an issue that’s not going away anytime soon. Experts pointed to a period between 2007 and 2011 when a recession led to a loss of 2.3 million jobs in construction. Then there is the issue of the “graying” of the workforce. Only 9% of the workforce is younger than twenty-five. The median age of a construction industry worker is 43 years old. Roughly 40% of all workers in the industry are 45–64. Many will be retiring soon. Faced with these grim statistics, construction companies are looking for the best ways to entice the next generation of skilled workers to come in and take their place.

A pervasive feeling in the industry is that everyone needs to pull together to develop a fundamental change in the approach used to attract younger people to careers in construction. While job postings and job fairs will always be a part of the recruiting process, many companies are turning to internships to promote their company and find future workers. They see an internship program as a year-round recruiting tool. The program can be of any length. There are fall internships, summer internships, and quarterly internships. Regardless, such programs can create an ongoing pipeline of future full-time employees.

The Company’s Role in a Successful Internship

Where internships are concerned, the onus is on the hosting company to create and carry out a program that meets the expectations of all involved. Certainly, the first step of crafting a successful internship program is carefully formulating selection criteria for potential candidates. Interviews should be fashioned to understand the applicant’s level of technical skills. Questions regarding the applicant’s experience in working as part of a team and the importance of teamwork should be thoroughly explored. This is the time to gain an understanding of the student’s general attitude and whether they “fit the mold” of the company. In the final analysis, the right attitude is far more important than any skill (which can be learned) that the applicant brings to the job.

Once selected, the intern must be plugged into a pre-structured mentorship with construction professionals on the job site. Shadowing superintendents help to ensure focused learning. At Cleveland Construction, mentorship is a key commitment to our 10-week summer internship program.

An Internship Represents a Win-Win Proposition

A well-crafted internship represents a win-win proposition for both the intern and the company. When structured correctly, both parties benefit from the experience. Whether it lasts just through the summer or a whole semester, an internship program is usually structured in collaboration with the student’s institution of higher learning so coarse credit can be earned. It can be offered to high school students or college students to spark an early interest in a career in construction. College students, especially those pursuing degrees in construction management, are perfect candidates for internships. Under close supervision and mentorship, the intern gains hands-on experience in learning one or more crafts. Relationships are forged with managers, trade contractors, architects, and engineers. At the same time, the intern is earning a “better-than-average” income”. A mutually successful relationship experienced during an internship may lead to a future job offer with the company. At a minimum, the time can enhance the student’s resume.

For the company, the internship represents a time to mentor and encourage while, at the same time, evaluate the attitude and competency of the participant under real-work conditions. Skills such as decision-making, communication, analyzing, and initiative can be observed. The most impressive interns can be identified and marked for a future job offer.

In the final analysis, a well-structured internship program can help to ensure a win-win for all involved. Interns gain valuable work experience while building relationships that can lead to future careers in construction. For the company, internships represent a powerful recruiting tool that can be used throughout the year and represent an ongoing pipeline for screening and selecting future full-time employees.