NPCA Producer Member Garden State Precast works with MTSU to create a custom precast concrete internship.
By Sara Geer
An ongoing internship can be an excellent recruiting tool for precasters. It can also be a great way to help lighten a company’s workload. However, for employers and the intern to get the most from the experience, it has to include more than just mundane tasks. If not, the result is likely a negative internship experience for the student and little gain for the employer.
Based on Ayaz Ahmed’s experience as an assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Concrete Industry Management program, students want the opportunity to learn and to be exposed to all functions of a company and industry. For this reason, Ahmed worked with Garden State Precast of Wall Township, N.J., to create a custom precast concrete internship program for the company.
A new internship experience
The foundation of the internship is to bring future employees to Garden State Precast. Ahmed said an internship can create excitement about the industry for the student and after completing school, they may end up being a match as a full-time employee. Ahmed has worked with Kirby O’Malley, president of Garden State Precast, for consulting on other projects, so the two worked together to modify the company’s existing internship to create a fresh new look of the precast concrete industry for local students.
Andrew Cooper, an engineering student at Widener University in Chester, Pa., was selected after an 8-to-10-week interview process to be the first student to go through the new internship in summer 2015. Cooper said the internship was structured to allow him to spend a week or two in all areas of the company and to see how all departments affected each other.
“If there was an issue in one department, I was able to see how that issue carried through every department,” Cooper said. “The schedule helped you to see the company from every aspect.”
He said spending time in the field provided him opportunities to see how the little details are extremely important to the success of a project. He feels working in the quality control and engineering departments will help him plan his future career. The internship also helped the staff at Garden State Precast see Andrew’s skills first-hand.
“It benefits us because first off, if Andrew could stay with us that would be great but also we see where he’s at,” said Mike Vergonia, plant manager. “We hire a lot of people that went to classes, but hands-on experience is really important.”
Communication is key
Garden State Precast has employed interns for several years, but never had an official internship program in place, O’Malley said. The internship helped Cooper learn a key lesson – communication is important to any successful business.
Andrew wrote a weekly synopsis of what he learned, what could be improved and what he expected to learn the next week. This regular update made him feel more like a partner in the company than just an intern. Ahmed said it’s a unique perspective that many internships may not include, because a company may lack the courage to ask, “‘What’s wrong and what can we do better?’ The lesson is, regardless of what industry you are in, you need to learn how to deal with people,” Ahmed said. “You also need to look at things from a different perspective and hopefully find a solution to a new problem or project that isn’t an existing project.”
Ahmed also said an internship is successful when an intern’s activities are regularly managed. Andrew said specific projects he helped work on were installing box culverts in the field and estimating projects in engineering. He was held responsible and accountable by the department supervisor for his work on every project.
“This is something that needs to be included in every internship because until you are truly immersed in something, you don’t truly learn,” Ahmed said.
O’Malley said the most important item to take away from having an internship is that the student learns what precast concrete is and the advantages it has from a manufacturer’s standpoint.
“That’s the type of information we want disseminated to those outside the industry, that we make a product that is controllable,” O’Malley said. “My hope is this is the direction our industry will decide to take in the future.”
According to Marti Harrell, executive director of NPCA Foundation,
the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Foundation is working with
NPCAF to create an internship program template for the precast and prestressed concrete industry. More information will be available at The Precast Show 2016.
Sara Geer is NPCA’s internal communication and web manager, and is managing editor of Precast Inc.