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Getting the Best from Your Interns

A growing number of companies have realized the benefits to bringing an Internship Program to their organization.  Larger contractors have used Interns for years but the experience has become more common for many contractors, no matter their size.

For all the benefits that an Internship Program can bring to an organization, few companies really exhaust their efforts to make the experience all that it can be.  Let me share a few signs of a poor Internship Program.

  • College students are not interviewed; just “invited & assigned”
  • Interns are given primarily administrative or low difficulty jobs
  • Interns are not included in strategic based meetings, decisions, etc.
  • The company does not work to determine the potential of the Intern
  • The Intern is not questioned by their “host” company about new trends being taught in school

Ask many Interns who have experienced one or more of the signs listed above and you will find an Intern who heads back to school considering other career choices.  At the least, the Intern will probably not consider being hired by the same company they served their Internship.

If you believe that Internships are worth the effort, and include an Internship Program as part of your company’s strategy to grow the company by finding the future workers and leaders, then you will be quite pleased with this article.  If you are interested in starting an Internship Program or want to upgrade your current efforts, then this article will really resonate with you and provide you with some excellent building tips.  Remember, the Internship Program should be part of your future growth plans.

Let’s look at how to get the very best from your Interns…and your Internship Program.

 

  1. 1. Interview Intern Candidates as if You Were Hiring

Asking the local college to send over a few candidates to Intern with you is not going to help identify the best Intern Candidate.  You must plan to interview Intern Candidates in the same manner that you might interview any job candidate.  While the questions may be different, you need to prepare by interviewing the Intern to determine their aptitude and attitude.  Anything less than this level of commitment and you will have only brought on short-term administrative assistants.

  1. Identify, Train, and Commit an Intern “Point of Contact”

I conduct training for many contractors on how to be a leader to an Intern.  But first, a company needs to identify the right candidate to be an Intern Point of Contact, or IPC.  This person needs to be someone who will oversee and coach the Intern on their role, responsibilities, and their job expectations.  The IPC needs to be trained on how to interact with their Intern, how to address improvements when needed, even how to determine if the Intern should be a future candidate for employment.  Finally, the IPC needs to be fully committed to fulfilling all that is needed to make the Intern’s experience enjoyable, educational, and encouraging.  It is quite common for contractors to hire employees who may have served an Internship while they were in college.

  1. Develop Goals & Exit Strategies for the Intern

The Intern, while interviewing, should be told that they will have goals set if they are selected.  This effort must be accomplished and delivered on the Interns very first day with your company.  The Goals might be reflective of what the IPC believes the Intern should be striving to achieve during the time-period of the Internship. 

Once the Intern has been around for a few weeks, the IPC should sit down with the Intern and begin to map out some Exit Strategies for the Intern’s departure.  The Exit Strategies might be a continuation of the Goals, but they may also include other achievements that the IPC believes the Intern capable of finishing as they complete their Internship.  The Exit Strategies might include preparing for and making a presentation to senior leaders on their Internship experience or, it might include having the Intern complete some written exercise that has lasting value such as a Standard Operating Procedure, or a software instructional book, etc. 

  1. Match the Intern with Interest & Educational Desire

To gain the best from your Intern it will be important to match their focus with something that will interest them and provide for some educational value.  Part of any internship should include introducing the Intern to some of the realities of construction or the specialty of your organization.  Additionally, it is wise to ask the Intern what is an area that captures their interest or desire. 

The Intern’s interest should be discussed during the interviewing phase, before they are extended an offer to spend their internship with your company.  Once they arrive, a brief confirmation of what they shared as their interest is then matched with a possible role that brings as much of the opportunity and educational value to their time with you.  Not only does this meet their need, it also sends them back to school with a positive attitude and experience with your company, something that they will brag about to their Academic Advisor and to any of their peers interested in a future Internship.

  1. Empower the Intern with Some Authority & Responsibility

If you are to give the Intern a great experience by educating them on how the “real world” works, you will need to invest some authority and responsibility into their time spent with you.  Short of them running the company, you can still empower an Intern with some authority, allowing them to make decisions that do not require them to have permission. Remember, they always have their IPC to throw ideas at, and who can counsel them on better options.  Giving the Intern a clear role description and the responsibilities that go along with the role reinforces the Intern that they were not brought in only to make copies of drawings or to file customer files.

  1. Schedule Regular Follow-Up by the IPC & Other Company Leaders

Depending on the length of the Internship, there should be periodic and regular follow-up sessions with the Intern.  And, because so many companies fail at prioritizing the time spent with an Intern, I would highly recommend that a regular schedule of more formal Follow-up Meetings are arranged between the Intern, their IPC, and other company leaders.  The list of “other” company leaders might include the Owner, a more Senior Leader, and a Human Resource Manager.  Conducting the Follow-ups with such a diversity of leaders will reinforce the commitment that your company has to making the Intern, and the Internship Program, a satisfying and a learning experience for the company. 

  1. Create a Team Exercise that the Intern Leads

One of the most interesting and beneficial observations I have made of companies who have a great Internship Program is engaging the Intern in creating and facilitating a team-based exercise.  The exercise might be job related or it might be team-building related.  It’s not critical what the exercise is but it will provide the Intern with the chance to facilitate a meeting that they control, thus providing an opportunity for you to monitor just how well they do in a mixed-group of people.

  1. Insure that the Intern Spends an Evening with the Team

Only so much can be learned about an Intern during the work day.  While grabbing a cup of coffee with an Intern, possibly taking them out lunch every few weeks, are good things to do, and should be encouraged, getting the Intern out for an evening with one or more of the company employees often furthers the experience for the company and Intern.  This is not about going out and getting drunk, but instead, taking the Intern to a more relaxing environment, allowing them to share more freely how they are doing, what type of things they feel they are learning, and do they have any ideas or recommendations to share about the Internship experience.

  1. Assess the Internship for All Involved Parties

By the end of the Internship process it will be important to capture any learned lessons and opportunities for improvement that has been gained.  Often, a company will only ask the Intern about their experience.  I would recommend that you also include those who were part of the Internship Program, whether directly (IPC), or indirectly.  Gathering feedback from the multiple perspectives can contribute to strengthening your Internship Program.

Internships are a great way for you to catch a close-up view of some of tomorrow’s workforce.  It’s a chance to see what sort of talent is out there to hire.  It’s also a chance for you to challenge your staff to recognize the importance of working with younger workers, being more sensitive about how your company “on-boards” new workers, and assess how effective the company is on training and development.

Internships are not about giving a college student an easy go of it, allowing them to spend eight to twelve weeks, maybe even sixteen weeks or more, just hanging out.  No, the Internship should be viewed as an honor to experience and an awakening to how hard great companies work to be successful.

Want to get the best from your Interns?  Then put some of the steps presented here to work in your company and watch the energy that takes place between your Interns and many of the company employees who will interact with the Intern.  It really is a win-win scenario.

Here’s to Getting the Best from Your Next Intern!

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend

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Can Contractors Bring America Back?

NOTE: This article originally appeared on ForConstructionPros.com

Eight reasons author Brad Humphrey believes the construction industry is the perfect place to resurrect the middle class and a great America

Think this title is too far fetched? Consider some thoughts from an article by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker magazine entitled “The Pay Is Too Damn Low.”

  • Fast food restaurants and department stores pay minimum wage because of low margins on the products and services they provide.
  • These same industries could get away with such pay in past years because many workers were teenagers and, per Surowiecki, “underemployed married women.”
  • Due to recent economic conditions, “main” breadwinners are actually filling many of these same jobs.

I think it is safe to say that most of us do not believe that America will prosper when the local hamburger franchise or low-cost department store chain employs a majority of this country’s workers. Therefore, is it possible that contractors, hiring construction workers, can bring back America? Can construction company owners and leaders bring back the ever-needed middle class?

Let me share a few thoughts why I think that contractors are exactly the right medicine for bringing back not only the middle class but our great country too!

First, few contractors pay their workers minimum wage? Why? Come on, that’s way too easy. Construction is hard work, conditions are often less than ideal, and even the most basic of laborers still needs to be able to read, count, learn and think to some extent.

It is not uncommon at all for construction workers to gross $35K to $60K in wages during the year. The more skilled construction workers can make every bit of the high end to this range and more — sometimes a lot more! Can you think of any better industry to help spark the revival of the middle class and the rebuilding of America than construction?

Second, what this country needs, in addition to jobs, is a resurgence of morale and motivation. I know few industries that have more self-motivated leaders than construction; that is, contractors and their leadership teams. Construction leaders are often, by nature, more optimistic and entrepreneur-like in their thinking and actions. For the most part, such leaders are learners and enjoy seeing others do well and succeed. Can you think of any better spirit for America to embrace today?

Third, the greatest percentage of contractors are “Red, White, and Blue” Americans. They understand hard work and deeply appreciate the opportunity that they’ve been given to create their own business and sell their services to those in need of dedicated workers to meet their construction needs. Sure there are a few “Carp” out there, but most contractors are “Thoroughbreds” and understand how to make money and how money works. Can you think of a better reason for America to begin prospering again?

Fourth, the greatest percentage of contractors are focused on employing the best available workers…regardless of age, sex or color! I’ve had the honor to consult with contractors in the Deep South, the Northeast, Northwest, the Southwest, the Midwest and the West Coast. Nowhere have I ever found a hint of a contractor who was prejudiced or had a hatred for people different than themselves. In fact, I found just the opposite: contractors who paid and recognized their workers for jobs well done no matter their color, age or sex. Can you think of a better attitude more Americans need to embrace today?

Fifth, no one works harder than the construction owner and leader. They are often the first in the office or on the jobsite each morning and the last to turn out the lights at night. Their work ethic is a testimony to how much they love their company, their employees and their industry. Sure they want to make money, but they also like to put people to work…and keep them working! Can you think of a better strategy for many of our politicians and government leaders to take?

Sixth, contractors recognize talent and what that talent is often worth and they are not afraid to pay for it. OK, contractors have budgets, but they will also do just about anything legal to hire talented people and pay them what they are worth. It truly makes contractors feel proud when they know that their workers are paid well enough to own a house, to pay for their kid’s college or to take a nice family vacation every year. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking; it’s a reality for a lot of construction workers. Can you think of a better financial objective to get the middle class back again and stronger than ever?

Seventh, as most contractors know, the infrastructure of the United States is in horrible condition. Roads and bridges are at an all-time “low” in terms of risk to the driving public. Many schools, court houses, fire stations, etc., are also in great need of remodeling, if not a total new rebuild. (And don’t even get me started about the need for more housing for all economic levels of Americans.) There are so many projects that need to be funded and completed that there may not be enough contractors, and construction workers, to complete all of the work if it were all to come in at the same time. Can you think of a better way to truly stimulate the economy with “real shovel ready” projects?

Eighth, construction owners, leaders and workers are some of the brightest people in the country. While many construction leaders are college educated, that is not always a sign of a successful contractor and leader. Some of the most successful contractors in America do not have a college diploma and quite honestly, are smarter than a lot of people with a PhD! Contractors and their people are creative, think outside the box and are not afraid to take a risk. Construction people are creative and strategic problem solvers and can often figure a way around what the architects and engineers deemed impossible or didn’t have the “horse sense” experience to see. Can you think of a better group of people to place more trust for rebuilding the United States than the American worker?

Yes, there are a lot of reasons why I think contractors and their leaders can bring back the America that truly rewards hard work and big dreams! The dwindling “middle class” can once again be resuscitated and much of this can be achieved through the construction vision, planning and execution of contractors.

Just as the automotive, steel, rubber and paper industries may have created wealth in the United States in years past, so now may the construction industry lead this country back to prominence and financial stability. Far fetched? With the great personal drive and determination of so many construction owners and leaders poised to spring into action, I think it is very realistic and possible for our construction industry to bring America back to a country again known for its commitment to excellence, opportunities and achievement.

You and I are part of the greatest industry in the world. Breathe it in! Be proud of yourself and your workers. Let your people know how much you appreciate them by stopping by to tell them yourself this next week. Can you imagine what would happen in America if all owners and leaders did the same?

Strategic Tips…Keep Focused & Straight

In the 100-meter sprint, coaches regularly remind their runners to keep their eyes focused and maintain a straight path through the finish line.  The primary reasons for this includes the fact that when running, many runners tend to veer slightly one way or the other.  The bobbing of one’s head can slightly influence the leaning of the body, and the runner must work hard to keep his, or her, head steady, eyes focused on a point of reference.In the 100-meter sprint, coaches regularly remind their runners to keep their eyes focused and maintain a straight path through the finish line.  The primary reasons for this includes the fact that when running, many runners tend to veer slightly one way or the other.  The bobbing of one’s head can slightly influence the leaning of the body, and the runner must work hard to keep his, or her, head steady, eyes focused on a point of reference.

My suggestion for contractors and leaders might be stated similarly.  When your company is undergoing strategic planning, plotting out the next three to five years of growth and development, keeping focused and straight, will your strategic effort be on track and in the right lane!

But what should our strategic efforts be focused on?  Focus on WHAT?  Just as important is to stay straight as you proceed to work on strategic plans.  So, Straight to WHAT?  Well, let’s explore both questions briefly.

In setting your strategic direction, you first need to identify three to five “Strategic Objectives.”  Most often, your Strategic Objectives will address growth in market domination, improving our work processes, even moving to a more efficient software that will strengthen our finance to estimating to field accountability.  It is in each strategic choice that clear statements should be written.  Often, a team of leaders and workers are formed who will take a specific strategic objective and “flush it out,” putting a statement, create goals, and build action plans, all aimed at achieving the needed objective.

If you created a few strategic teams, it is important that they meet to collectively address the strategic objective.  Because such objectives are often created at special Strategic Retreats, added team members to a specific Strategic Objective Team, will need to be educated and updated on the objective.   

You will find it helpful, and important for the long-haul, if the team considers writing, or rewriting, the Strategic statement that was quickly developed during your strategic retreat.  The original statement may not need an entire rewrite, but chances are that the Strategic Objective Team may want to make the statement more clear and accurate.

There is not only one “right way” to enhance a strategic statement, but it should reflect the team’s consensus that it provides direction and clarity.  From the completed statement, don’t be afraid to add a few sub-points if it helps to clarify the statement.  Remember, it is the Strategic Objective, this statement, that will help to keep the Strategic Objective Team focused, bringing them back to the team’s “lane,” when they have veered slightly left or right.

Now, let’s take on the “Straight to WHAT?” consideration.  This may be a little more challenging.  It is in moving the team along that you will want to create some measurements for completion.  For example, let’s look at the following statement that was actually developed as a Strategic Objective. 

Create individual accountability to reduce rework & call-backs

At first glance, this might suggest that just a lowering of rework and call-backs is proof alone that the company has achieved this strategic objective.  Though no one would argue that a bona-fide reduction in rework and call-backs is very positive, does this single measurement alone confirm that our team was successful.  Well, yes and no.

Yes, if we did realize less rework and call-backs.  No, because this alone doesn’t prove that we have created individual accountability.  So, the team, in order to remain “straight,” will greatly strengthen their efforts if they can map out a few targets, or goals, that will collectively bring more confidence that their Strategic Objective has been addressed completely.
To continue using this example, let me add a few more thoughts that might be entertaining discussion for this example.  Thoughts such as:

  • How do we create more accountability in existing workers?
  • How can we “on-board” accountability in our newest and future workers?
  • What reduction in rework and call-backs will allow us to celebrate?
  • What current processes/systems need to be reviewed to determine their impact, good or bad, on our present rework and call-backs situation?
  • Finally, the presence of rework and call-backs itself provides a measurement (of poor workmanship); what other measurements might we consider that address the improvement efforts needed?

Now, in some cases, the pure discussion of the questions, like those above, might generate some new thinking that can go far in assisting the team to arrive at some new solutions.  And where some solutions may not change much, perhaps the new answers will come in the form of a measurement or slight re-alignment in a process.

It is in the “Straight to WHAT?” portion of your team’s movement that will require the most “heavy lifting.”  It is here, where attention to detail, challenging the status quo or tradition, and making bold recommendations, that your Strategic Objective Teams will find some needed discussions and decision-making.

Keep your Strategic Objective Teams focused on these two items and you will greatly reduce the amount of confusion and frustration.  As leaders, encourage the team to discuss further, looking in new and different areas, before committing too quickly to a solution or strategy.  Remember, we are not interested in finding another Band-Aid, but instead, to find the best possible solution to achieving your Strategic Objectives.

In growing your company today, you will benefit greatly from engaging more of your leaders and workers.  In fact, drawing on the brain power of your “Thoroughbred” employees can add much to taking your company higher and further.  Making your company the preferred contractor and employer, can be greatly enhanced by applying the two recommendations presented in this article.  

Good luck but more, work hard and keep it the two areas addressed in this writing.  Remember, your future success may depend greatly on these efforts.

Brad Humphrey, The Contractor’s Best Friend