From Classroom to Construction–Boldt Intern Program Gives Students Advantage in Uncertain Job Market

Release Date: 07/31/2014 | Constructor Magazine

“I WAS ANYTHING BUT A ‘GO-FER,'” says Curtis Brown of his recent internship at The Boldt Company, an AGC of Wisconsin member. “When you’re in class you learn how things should work, but nothing ever quite goes that way. Boldt didn’t hold anything back from me over the internship, so I felt like I was in a great position for graduation.” Brown, a student at Northern Michigan University, is one of over 100 students across the country who have participated in Boldt’s internship program since it was formalized about five years ago.

Jamie Nenahlo, director of employee services at Boldt, collaborates with other company leaders to manage the year-round internship program, which he says is about more than just practicing what’s learned in the classroom.

“Putting into practice what students learn during their studies is important, but learning communication in the workplace is just as vital,” says Nenahlo. “We try to give all our interns the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people and personalities — that practical experience is something you just can’t get in a classroom.”

One of those experiences for Boldt field engineering interns in California is the Associate Schools of Construction Student Competition, a 24-hour, intense event that puts participants through real-life construction problems associated with scheduling, estimating, plan reading and site logistic plans. While the competition seeks to provide students with a glimpse into the real world of construction, Alex Campbell, a Boldt intern and third-place participant, says working for Boldt already provided him that exposure.

“My internship at Boldt greatly affected my ability to compete,” says Campbell. “I was able to utilize my leadership and collaboration skills, as well as my general knowledge in construction, such as plan reading.”

Like Campbell, Brown says his experience reflects the intern program’s emphasis on exposing interns to a broad range of tasks and situations.

“Once I started working on a project site I was really treated like one of the team — I was involved in a lot of different activities on a daily basis from meetings and working through the project delivery process to material orders and communicating with owners and engineers,” says Brown. “By the end of summer I had my own world of responsibilities and project details that I was accountable for.”

Boldt interns aren’t just “thrown into the fire” without any help, however; each intern is paired with a core mentor from the company for guidance, direction and feedback.

Students in the program also work with their fellow interns; this year, a group of interns was tasked with evaluating Boldt’s tool-tracking system and identifying improvements that could be made. The group presented its findings at the end of the summer to a panel of their mentors and others from Boldt, who gave feedback and tested the group’s results against different scenarios.

Nenahlo says the group project was a new addition to the program this past year. “The program is always evolving. We’re constantly looking for new and better ways to maximize what participants can learn and take away from their internships that will help them grow as professionals,” says Nenahlo.

The experience gained from responsibilities Boldt interns take on, while invaluable during a job search, often make such a search unnecessary. “Our thorough recruiting process and effective mentors yield a lot of talented interns who often grow their roles so much during their internship that we hire them permanently,” says Nenahlo.

Ryan Koenigs, now a project engineer at Boldt, is one of the many employees who started as interns. Koenigs, a Milwaukee School of Engineering graduate, says the way the program is structured is what sets it apart. “There were certain goals set for me during my internship, but it was flexible enough that if I became interested in a certain aspect of construction I was able to pursue new tasks in that area,” says Koenigs. “The program has guidelines, but I think it’s important that interns are allowed to showcase their abilities by taking the initiative to grab something and run with it instead of needing constant instruction.”

Koenigs, Brown and other interns may have had very different experiences in Boldt’s internship program depending on their positions, but Koenigs says there is one experience they all share.

“I think at some point, every Boldt intern has that ‘a-ha’ moment when he or she realizes the difference between learning about a job in the construction industry and actually performing one,” says Koenigs.