In tight market, interns find way to jobs in construction | NevadaAppeal.com

In tight market, interns find way to jobs in construction

Rob Sabo
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Students Nate Close, left, Josh Bankofier, Michael Venturacci and John Bumgardner  build a shed while in a construction management class Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010 while on the Carson City campus of Western Nevada College. Photo by Lisa J. Tolda.
Lisa J. Tolda | Lisa J Photography. P.O. Box 225

Job prospects for college students majoring in engineering and construction management aren’t completely dismal.

Construction company executives who were scouting talent at a national competition of construction students in Sparks a few days ago say their companies continue to take on interns.

Old-fashioned networking through industry groups also opens doors for young engineers and construction managers, they say.

More than 1,100 students comprising 173 teams attended the Associated Schools of Construction 24th annual student competition at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

The event included a job fair featuring representatives of more than 50 large construction companies.

For many of the students, an internship will begin to open doors during the current downturn, says Steve Humpheys, vice president of Sundt Construction.

He says internships allow students to immerse themselves in practical applications of their education while giving employers a chance to gauge an intern’s merit without committing to a full-time hire.

“We look for students with the right personality, good work ethic and want to roll up their sleeves and go to work,” Humphreys says. “They have a nice foundation with the education they have received, but that doesn’t mean they know how to build a building.”

Sundt currently is building the nearly 60,000-square-foot, $49 million Pennington Health Sciences Building at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is in the midst of an $8 million renovation to the building that houses the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Sundt typically seeks entry-level field engineers to provide project support and spend time on a job site, where they build trade knowledge. Internships not only provide invaluable connections and experience for interns, but they also can expose students to different companies within the industry, says Joe Bean, human resources manager for Teichert Construction of Sacramento. Teichert, a heavy civil engineering firm, has highway improvements projects underway on Interstate 80 at Truckee and Emigrant Gap and has been working on I-80 for more than six years, Bean says.

Teichert also seeks entry-level project engineers with the maturity to make decisions, Bean says – a combination not often taught in classroom settings. In addition to internships, building a network of contacts in the construction industry and in the community also is vital for young construction professionals, Bean says.

“You need to get out there and shake hands and look people in the eye and build those relationships,” he says.

Granite Construction continues to seek candidates for all different types of opportunities, says Pam Stepien, regional human resources manager. The company seeks students with a passion for the industry, she says, but a history of extracurricular activities also carries weight.

“We look for good, well-rounded students, not just textbook knowledge,” Stepien says. “It is important to look for internship opportunities – they give real-life experience and put all that schoolwork and textbook learning to work. It also is a good opportunity to make sure that this is what students are passionate about, and shows employers that they are the right person for the job.”

Bill Oney, professor of construction technology at Western Nevada College in Carson City, says it’s critical that students get some field experience so that they can hit the ground running once they graduate. About 100 students are enrolled in Western Nevada College’s construction management program, the only four-year baccalaureate program at WNC.

Students typically undertake internships at the end of their second or fourth year in school depending on the degree path they are pursuing. “It is an opportunity for employers to get to know them, and for them to get completely up to speed,” Oney says.

For students who already are working in the industry, WNC puts together a curriculum of material they will study as part of their work schedule, Oney says. The college has placed interns with many regional companies and in Southern California as well.

“It kind of depends on who is hiring at a given time,” Oney says.