Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: Why Internships Matter For Our Industry’s Future

Internships provide valuable experience for students who are trying to define their career paths. Here's why employers should care, too.

It is no secret that internship programs provide a valuable experience for students who are trying to define their career paths, while they are pursuing a college degree or vocational training. What is a surprise is the longevity of programs in this region that have been successfully implemented, as well as the changing demographics of those students chasing careers in commercial construction.

In a tight labor market, an intern program is vital to a firm’s growth. Moreover, by identifying raw talent early and bringing interns on board, the process breeds loyalty that isn’t always possible with lateral hires.

For more than two decades, TDIndustries, one of the region’s largest mechanical contractors and service providers, has had a strong internship program, aimed at recruiting recent college graduates, as well as those trained in the trades. TD was founded upon the principles of servant leadership which is at the core of its culture and guides the company’s relationships with its customers, suppliers and with each other, according to Harold MacDowell, CEO. “By hiring interns who are introduced to TD’s culture and career paths early, TD has seen long-term success,” says MacDowell.  In fact, approximately 50 percent of TD’s managers have been “homegrown,” according to MacDowell, and these partners are deeply committed to TDIndustries.

The firm recruits from six different universities and numerous high schools and trade schools. TD’s program ensures that the company’s interns are exposed to all areas of the business from engineering to project management to field construction and service.

With the tight labor market, TD has recognized the importance of recruiting in non-traditional areas for Partners as well.  For example, TD has accelerated its recruitment efforts and has developed targeted programs to attract more women and veterans into the skilled trades. In fact, TD has a commitment to increase the hiring of women by 200 percent and veterans by 25 percent by 2020, and TD’s intern program is vital to meeting the firm’s growth objectives.

At MYCON, interns learn processes and procedures from the beginning. There are no old habits to break, and no cultural misfits. When you are growing quickly, as many firms have in recent years, integrating newcomers to the firm’s culture and ways of doing business is important.

We bring approximately 10 interns annually on board. For those hired between their sophomore and junior years, the return rate is 80 percent, and, from that group, we have made offers to half of those in their program with a current 100 percent acceptance rate by the candidates.

Although our summer internship program is not necessarily a vehicle for staffing, I believe we benefit from introducing interns to the realities of the construction business and by giving them a good experience.  If an intern has a positive experience working for us, that young person returns to school and recruits others, too. We begin to build a reputation for offering career paths that they may not have considered.

For Nora Hogan, principal of Transwestern, the biggest benefit of those hired is the exposure they receive to the different aspects of the business. “We hire summer associates,” says Hogan, “but we do not consider our program a recruiting tool. It is more of a community outreach effort that enables young associates to narrow their career choice.” Hogan ought to know.  She has successfully completed over 22 million square feet in transactions for her clients and has been recognized repeatedly as one of the top 30 brokers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Kane Russell Coleman Logan PC’s formal summer program consists of two six week sessions.  Interns are paid well but work hard doing much of the same work that they would be expected to do once hired by the firm, whereas in the not-too-distant past the internships were designed to entice potential candidates through social events, more so than with substantive work. They also receive great exposure to all facets of the profession.

The difference, however, between construction firms and law firms is that “internships don’t always result in long-term employees,” says Raymond Kane, president of Kane Russell.  “There is a great deal of lateral movement among established attorneys in the legal profession, and that lateral migration also impacts many young attorneys, relatively  fresh out of law school, who move around quickly because of the high demand for young lawyers, especially among those firms seeking to open Texas offices from out of state locations.  Regardless, internships (called clerkships in the legal trade) are of great service to the profession, and every so often, a firm is able to develop and keep a young lawyer as they mature into highly valued seasoned attorneys.”

Of course, one of the best known programs is sponsored by CBRE.  It is called the “Wheel Program” for select college graduates. It’s a one-year training program designed to provide young professionals with exposure to the various enterprises within the industry, ranging from asset services and capital markets to brokerage. The goal is to match the passion of the young recruit to an area of the business that provides a great career match and path.

 

Why do we do it?

Firms like Satterfield & Pontikes have been recruiting new hires through a formal program since 2001. According to John Marshall, vice president of business development and marketing, “We are looking for the next wave of young leadership, and at least one-third to one-half of our current young leaders were hired through our internship program.”

Interns learn the ropes by moving through different departments with a focus on operations and estimating. “They like the structure and having a boss.  The program also tests the effectiveness of following our procedures and policies,” says Marshall.

Annually, the firm reaches out to seven different universities and brings nearly two dozen interns on board for the experience.  This year, Satterfield & Pontikes will be making offers to 11 of the 13 participants. “There is a Chinese proverb,” says Marshall, that states, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now.” Marshall believes that by investing in an intern program, the firm is growing future talent and future leaders today.

Marshall makes a good point. Growing a young professional or tradesperson takes time, patience and the willingness to transfer knowledge and experience to that next generation of managers and leaders.

Our own program which we launched through the Mayor’s initiative in Dallas has been a resounding success. We are introducing careers to young people who might never have considered being in business development, marketing, project estimating, or project management. One of the more exciting aspects of these internships are the changing demographics.  We are seeing more females and minority applicants who want to enter our program.

Discovering construction internships with available opportunities has been simplified in today’s digital world. Online sites such as internships.com list jobs in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio, including smaller sub-markets. Commercial real estate and general contractors routinely post opportunities on their websites and through their social media channels.

Why do we do it?  From my view, we do it to expose the wide range of opportunities available for young people who may never have known what our industry offers. We do it to help provide a career path that embraces their skills and disciplines. We do it to groom them to become good employees, managers and team leaders and to provide better paying jobs.

We do it to diversify, innovate, and grow.

 

Charles Myers is president and CEO of MYCON General Contractors, a general contractor based in North Texas. A former co-chair of the Industrial and Office Local Product Council for the North Texas District Council of the ULI, Myers serves on Landmark Bank’s Texas Regional Board as a director. He can be reached at [email protected].

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