Michael K. Morales, a Sundt Talent Acquisition and University Relations Specialist, recently traded in his desk job for a few weeks in the field as an intern on our Biosciences Partnership Building in Downtown Phoenix. Michael put on his work gear, attended meetings, performed quality control walks, helped clean up the site and did most everything an intern would do on a jobsite.
An internship is a valuable step into the work world. Looking back on the experience, Michael has words of wisdom for college students who are interested in the construction industry and preparing for a first internship.
My only real “hands-on” experience in construction came by building a deck with my dad when I was about 10 (I’m sure I was extremely helpful). I have a bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communications from Northern Illinois University. I’m not your typical construction worker, nor am I a handyman.
But I like to win at whatever I do. In my job as Talent Acquisition and University Relations Specialist, I sometimes need a little on-the-job training to get a better idea of what our people do in the field so I can help recruit the best interns and employees. That was my inspiration for spending a few weeks as an intern at a Sundt joint venture project with DPR, the Biosciences Partnership Building.
The opportunity to go through an internship and better understand a Field Engineer’s work/responsibilities is absolutely priceless as a “corporate” guy. I could discuss the sites, daily responsibilities and hours with students but the question I couldn’t answer was “What is it like being a Sundt intern?” That was the idea behind my entire experience this winter. Boots on the ground, in the weeds, hard hat and PPE. Getting it done!
In my few weeks at the BPB, I learned a tremendous amount about the industry. I attended a concrete pour on the eighth floor, learned and processed RFIs/submittals, attended safety training, checked embed layout for accuracy, conducted quality control walks, safety walks, wrote minutes for meetings (Owner/Architect/Contractor, Engineer, Safety, Joint Venture, Daily Huddles and Structural Coordination) and gained the experience and knowledge to help future interns create careers at Sundt.
During my experience, I had the opportunity to see Sundt from a college student’s perspective. And with that, I have these recommendations for future interns.
Get to know your mentor BEFORE your first day
Reach out to him or her before he or she contacts you. This is a key relationship for your success at Sundt. Your mentor, usually the Project Engineer or Field Engineer, will be working with you on a daily basis vs. a Project Manager or Project Superintendent who might work with you as needs arise. Ultimately, your mentor will be giving recommendations for full-time employment (along with input from other team members). So do the little things right: show up on time, seek advice, engage with employees and ask questions.
Have a good understanding of how to read drawings (it will take some time)
An important skill that is often overlooked is the science of understanding blueprints. Make sure to have a general understanding of construction documents (drawings, RFIs, submittals and meeting minutes) before you show up for your internship. If a Project Engineer/Field Engineer is sending you RFIs/submittals to process, send the correct drawings back and check that the question you are asking has not already been answered somewhere else (first-day mistake on my part). Don’t be a paper pusher, don’t just copy and paste questions. Read the questions, understand them and if you don’t comprehend something, ask your mentor. You’ll need to get to a point during your internship where you understand and complete these accurately or you will struggle. Everything you will do in your career revolves around these documents.
Get out of your comfort zone
Everyone on a jobsite is extremely busy. You need to continuously seek opportunities to learn. Don’t wait to be tasked with a job! Ask a Project Engineer how you can assist, shadow a Superintendent, shovel concrete, help with dust control or participate in a quality control walk. Don’t be afraid to ask to help the team. You didn’t seek an internship so you could sit at a computer and surf TMZ, did you? This is your opportunity to show that you want and deserve to be here! It’s up to you to do it!
Get out on the actual jobsite as much as you can
You asked to be in the field, right? So get out there! While I was onsite at BPB, I made a point to go out at least once a day. You can always conduct a safety walk, check for layout accuracy, verify subcontractors’ daily activity checklist, clean up debris, etc. Yes, you can go out there without an escort. Make sure to attend the proper site safety training before you are cleared to go on your own.
Pay attention in meetings
There are a lot of meetings (for interns, sometimes five a day) but unless you are fully engaged at all of them you will be missing out on the experience. I learned a TON just by listening and taking meeting notes (which may be required for you so you might as well start Day 1). These notes were as simple as learning what a spider box to understanding weekly work plan scheduling, how to tell thickness of rebar, general site safety, OSHA (guidelines and when its representatives were visiting), fire protection, door installations, waterproofing, etc.
Attend a concrete pour (even if you have to go to a different site for a day)
Yes, it’s probably during an odd hour (my pour started at 11 p.m.). Make sure you try and get some sleep the few hours beforehand. Otherwise it makes for a long day/night. Seeing this pour helped me understand concrete formwork, how shoring works and how concrete gets finished after the pour. It truly is an art form, from scheduling to the equipment needed. Make sure you see one during your internship.
The past few weeks were a terrific experience for me. I appreciate everyone who allowed me to see firsthand what it’s like to be an intern. Sundt is a great place to work, learn and advance. I’m extremely confident that we will continue to attract the best students possible.
Let’s get to work!