Business Transformation Comes from Developing Talent
By Andrea Pachner, Director of People, Buffalo Construction, Inc.
A recent report from the National Survey of College Internships states that internships are quickly becoming a necessity in general education requirements during college. These off-campus experiences provide valuable professional insight and industry knowledge that accelerate student engagement and help them apply their college learnings toward real-world concepts. Additionally, the National Association of College and Employers reports that out of the graduates surveyed, more than 80% stated that obtaining an internship helped them more seamlessly shift careers or majors. This is an essential skill that could keep students from accumulating more debt by staying in school longer than necessary. It’s clear that internships are invaluable to the success of the future workforce and, thus, the prosperity of companies across the United States, including our own.
Buffalo Construction, Inc. began its internship program 3 years ago, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the program's inception, the median age of our superintendents who oversee every step of the construction process was 58 years old. While many Superintendents enjoy working past age 70, we noticed it was becoming increasingly more difficult to find and retain experienced talent for several reasons. One reason is due to generational career trends. While the construction industry was attractive for many Baby Boomers, it was not as popular within the upcoming Gen X generation. This discretion in interest created a noticeable workforce gap in the construction industry. We also realized that all construction companies were competing for the same shrinking pool of experienced construction professionals working toward retirement, resulting in a highly competitive recruiting market. When we came to this realization, it was clear that while we needed to continue focusing on recruiting the more seasoned construction professionals, we also needed a strategy to attract and train young talent. We did so by implementing a program that would support the long-term vitality of the company and help enhance employability for students entering the workforce.
Investing in homegrown talent
The team at Buffalo Construction, Inc. is a family, so to ensure our new teammates adapted to the culture, we wanted to invest in a younger group who could grow with the company. We developed relationships with colleges across Kentucky like Murray State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and the University of Louisville to hand-pick the interns who would work at Buffalo Construction, Inc. alongside our construction veterans who had been in the industry for more than 30 years. Our intention with our intern program wasn’t for our newcomers to fetch tools or run to Home Depot. We aimed to provide an in-depth, hands-on experience that would challenge our interns and inspire current teammates, while sharpening their teaching and leadership skills. Our interns are a beneficial asset in leveraging our existing workforce by introducing new methods, technology, and ideas to help the business adapt and succeed long term in an ever-changing industry.
A Day as an Intern
Typically, we begin intern recruitment in the fall and send offer letters near the end of the year, with these teammates starting in May. They’re matched with their job sites and corresponding superintendents prior to their first day to ensure they are a good fit with an understanding of desired learning objectives. We also provide weekly check-ins to understand how they’re adapting to the job and culture. Depending on what career they are looking for, some interns work as safety specialists or project managers within our support center, and others will physically be on a job site. Ensuring their position aligns with their interest and, ultimately, their satisfaction and happiness are very important to us.
Our interns are tasked with journaling throughout the summer to solidify their learnings and recount their experiences for future interviews, hopefully with us! They help their superintendents with their daily field reports, ensure quality control on job sites, check field measurements, work on product submittals, fill out safety reports, and learn how to read construction plans. Interns also participate in several social events to get the chance to see all Buffalo Constriction, Inc. teammates, whether they are in the support center or at another job site. We try to make it an extensive, all-encompassing experience.
Additionally, we’ve also been enhancing our role as the Buffalo Construction, Inc. project engineers. While not interns, these teammates tend to be early in their career with a couple of years of experience under their belts. As a result, they can effectively assist our superintendents in more advanced builds or project management. This is another example of investing in the younger generation while doing what we can to support our current teammates.
Global Reach and Looking Ahead
Overall, Buffalo Construction, Inc. aimed to create an inspiring intern program that recruited top talent, but we also sought for it to have a global reach and lead to increased awareness of our company and our values. This happened not too long ago when one of our interns participated in a pageant states away. She discussed her positive experience interning at Buffalo Construction, Inc. during a speaking prompt. Someone in the crowd recognized the name of our company and reached out to a connection here to learn more. That word-of-mouth conversation is really what the intern program is all about – connecting with the younger generation for the long-term success and viability of the company.
While we’d love to have every intern come back to work with us full-time upon graduation from college, the reality is some will move on to different opportunities – and that’s okay. When we developed this program, we understood that each effort in recruitment might not provide an immediate return on investment, but luckily, at Buffalo Construction, Inc., it isn’t all about that. Each year we aim to grow our program and enhance it. We hope to develop our recruitment strategy further and expand to other colleges near some of our larger build sites outside of the state. Ultimately, our concentrated effort is to invest in our young professional’s community and help them gain experience alongside industry veterans.
The relationship between internships and full-time employment is clear – internships allow teammates to train their future workers and provide invaluable experience to these students. According to the HR Database, SHRM, establishing internships equated to more than a 71% retention rate for employees who had previous internal internship experience within the company after one year.
Prioritizing the happiness and success of incoming talent will leverage businesses forward and ultimately create more cost-effective hiring. When a cohesive working environment exists where both industry mentors and fresh talent win, it’s a formula for industry success. At Buffalo Construction, Inc., we’re proud to have a strong internship program that continues to help set our company apart from the pack.