The internship requirement for NPCA Foundation scholarship recipients ensures they roll up their sleeves and get hands-on knowledge of the precast industry.
NPCA Staff Report
When it comes to understanding the precast concrete industry, there’s no substitute for real-life experience. The NPCA Foundation ensures this takes place by requiring its scholarship recipients to complete internships at NPCA member facilities.
By working at the ground level of the precast industry, these students learn not just what precast concrete is, but also how it’s manufactured and everything that goes into ensuring high-quality products.
Lucas Winkler has a last name that is familiar to some NPCA members as his father, Andy Winkler, is a longtime employee of Wieser Concrete Products and has been active with NPCA for many years. At the time of the interview, Lucas was in the middle of his internship at Vaughn Concrete Products. Given his ties to the industry, the experience bolstered his knowledge and exposed him to new ideas and concepts.
Ian Underburger, a civil engineering student at Ohio State University, conversely, had no knowledge of the precast industry prior to earning an NPCA Foundation scholarship. He chose to complete his internship with NPCA Associate member Concrete Sealants. By doing so, he learned not only about concrete and precast applications, but also how important the products that go into finished products truly are.
These two students, along with their supervisors, have mutually benefited from the internship experience and shared their thoughts on it with NPCA.
NPCA members interested in hosting interns can use the tools developed by the NPCA Foundation to create their program, available at precast.org/foundation/internships.
What school do you attend and what are you studying?
This fall I’m going to Chippewa Valley Technical College and working toward a two-year business management degree.
What did you hope to gain through this internship program?
My No. 1 goal was to get to know a little bit about everything and be able to do a little bit of everything when asked.
What have you done so far in your internship?
I’ve learned a lot about delivery and the truck driving side. On top of that, I’ve learned a lot about the job site structure and how it’s set up: what goes on, what to watch for, how to deal with the people, that kind of stuff. I’ve also learned a little bit about the manufacturing side such as the rebar and pouring the concrete, tearing forms down, setting forms up, oiling forms and other basic plant stuff. I’ve also become familiar with storm shelters. I’ve set one of those and dealt with quite a few so far. Also, along with the trucking side, load securement is a bigger thing.
What have you learned that you didn’t expect to learn?
One of the main things that sticks out is just the structures you can make with precast. I’ve learned you can make just about anything you want using precast.
How do you think precast plants can benefit from hosting interns?
We are another helpful hand, but also, employees go over more things with an intern that normally they wouldn’t, which refreshes some of the basic things for them.
Having worked at Wieser Concrete Products in the past, how has this experience been different and boosted your knowledge of the industry?
One of the biggest things that’s different is VCP manufactures more special structures and more custom structures than Wieser Concrete.
What has been your favorite part of the internship so far?
My favorite part has been getting to know everybody and seeing how it all works out here, and then going on the job site and seeing the different struggles or tasks you have to face on the job site and what to expect.
What are you plans for the future?
I’ll keep doing internships for the next few years and probably stay in the precast industry. I want to try a couple different plants. I haven’t fully decided where I’m going to go yet, but I want to get to Mark Wieser’s facility in Portage, Wis., and I’ll spend a summer in Wieser’s Maiden Rock plant. I definitely like this internship and want to keep doing them.
President and General Manager, Vaughn Concrete Products
What did you learn from hosting an intern previously?
Each kid is different in what they are looking for. I ask them what they are looking for and what they want to learn to do and tell them what we have to offer to make sure that’s what they would be happy with.
Why did you decide to host an intern this year?
I think it’s Lucas himself. He had that sparkle in his eye. I had a conversation with him and told him that if he wanted to come work for us in the summer to let us know. I told him there would be a wide variety of things he would be exposed to, and he got that sparkle and showed interest.
How has the experience benefited Vaughn Concrete Products?
Sometimes we can get too complacent about what our people should know how to do, or that you think they know how to do, but when you take time to explain it to someone it makes sure other people have the details as well. It’s a good reminder to us to communicate the details to all your people.
Would you recommend other precasters host interns? Why?
In addition to helping refresh your own people, we also have to invest in our future, and our future is the next generation to come. There aren’t many kids who are getting out of bed saying, “I want to work at a precast concrete plant.” Most don’t have any idea really what it is and what we do, and there’s a lot of work that goes with it but quite a bit of excitement as well. If they don’t know it’s out there, they’re certainly not going to go down that path.
Is it important for people like Lucas, who have industry experience, to work at another precast plant?
I think it really is. There are so many different management styles, so many different philosophies. We build specialty structures, whereas a lot of plants are building repetitious product and adapt that product where it fits. I think it’s really good for all of us, and that’s why I like to tour precast plants. You can see what other people are doing, and even if you don’t use it tomorrow or the next day, you know that option is out there and I think that’s really important – that there are other ways of doing things.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m pretty proud of Lucas. It was his decision to come and in his first few days he learned what a 40-hour workweek is – Monday and Tuesday. He’s done well and stuck right with it and hopefully when he’s my age he’ll look back and say, “I did learn a lot.”
What school do you attend and what are you studying?
I’m studying civil engineering at The Ohio State University and going into my sophomore year.
How did you hear about the NPCA Foundation scholarship?
I was researching going into college about scholarships. My mom actually found the scholarship and got me in the right direction. I knew very little about the precast industry going into it. I took the NPCA PQS I class in the spring, and here at Concrete Sealants I’ve been able to get my brain around the information better and understand it better. As I was researching precasters in the area to continue my scholarship next year, I was looking at precasters and then precast suppliers came up as well. At Concrete Sealants, they made me feel like they had a plan for me, and it was really enticing to hear what I’d have the opportunity to do.
What have you done so far in your internship?
So far, I’ve tested a lot of the products. I’ve done pressure cell testing, which is putting our butyl rubber sealant in pressure cells and measuring how much they move due to hydrostatic pressure, and also worked to come up with a consistent concrete mix design to create a control to see how well our products perform. Also, I’ve been getting to know our side of the industry. I’m doing something completely different that I never thought I would be doing.
How has this internship benefited you as a student and prepared you for the future?
An obvious benefit for me is learning the science behind concrete mix design. I learned it a little bit in PQS I, but being able to come up with a design on my own here, actually pour concrete, and to get to do the compression tests and see the results has been great. I can modify the mix design with things like the w/c and gradation of the aggregate. In school, in my concrete mix design class, I think I’m going to ace the class now because I have so much experience with it. For the future, I think it’s prepared me for an independent engineering field work environment where I take on projects, go work on them and report back.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned during the internship so far?
I would say the uses for the products has been surprising – seeing the technology behind them like the hydrophilic water stops and the densifying agents, seeing the vast amounts and scopes of their products and the different projects they work on all around the globe.
Engineering Manager, Concrete Sealants
Why did you decide to host an intern this year? Have you had interns in the past?
During the summer, we have high school graduates or college students work in our factory. A couple of times, we’ve had interns with chemical engineering experience. Jesse Wingert had the thought, “Why don’t we get an NPCA Foundation intern and see what we can learn from them and they can learn from us?” The opportunity to interview Ian came up and he is now the first engineering intern we’ve had. As a Foundation Board member, it was important to me as I’ve been working to promote it to others.
How has hosting an intern benefited Concrete Sealants?
Going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We have someone who is very intelligent who can take on projects, be independent with those projects, come to me or others with questions and seek our advice but then go apply that information – that’s just been amazing to be able to be able to have that happen.
For me, there are projects that I’d like to do but I have a busy schedule. It’s allowed me to take a couple of those ideas and say, “Here’s something, own it, run with it and figure it out.” Ultimately, there will be things he’ll finalize with a nice technical report and provide us with data that will be used to his own personal benefit to show that he’s participated in work and there was an outcome.
For us, it will provide finite data we can use for years to come.
Why do you think Associate members should get involved with hosting interns?
I think when we hear of the Foundation and of scholarships, we immediately think it’s an intern to go into construction or civil engineering. So, when you’re out there making widgets for the industry, you think, “We don’t build bridges.” But what’s interesting is that we may not be out there building the precast products, but we’re involved with every kind of company that builds every kind of precast product. We’re in that world all the time, so I would say to the associates out there, “Don’t knock it until you try it, because once you try it you’re going to be hooked.”
How does interning at an Associate member help round out the knowledge of the precast industry for interns?
You have to think of the entire product realization cycle of getting a box culvert in the ground or putting a building facade up. There’s concrete that gets poured into a form to build a product, but before that ever happens, all the raw materials are sourced, supplied and delivered. For a really good intern to have a knowledge of the entire supply chain from the time the rock gets quarried to the time the materials get ordered and supplied, it’s an entire system of events to understand. Working at an Associate member allows an intern to see a broader picture of what’s happening in that entire cycle of development. PI