Internships: Opportunity Works Both Ways

As spring transitioned into summer, we welcomed an infusion of new perspectives to our firm in the form of our summer intern program. Summer is an exciting time for us; we build new relationships with the young talent in our region, and they are given the opportunity to do the same. We learned long ago that it’s not just talent that gets you far in this business, but the relationships you make; it’s the willingness to trust your peers, listen to the wisdom passed down to you, and learn new and exciting ways to think about your work. To put it simply, interns aren’t the only people learning.

Our internship program has been a facet of BFW/Marcum for 15 years now. We’re proud to say that this summer was our busiest in the program’s history, with 7 interns working with our full-time staff to learn the ropes by getting valuable field experience and offering their unique perspectives.

Our Program Bridges the Gap Between Conceptual & Real-Life

Classroom learning is the foundation for engineering, but it is truly the tip of the iceberg for interns.  We asked the head of our internship program, Melissa Yates, General Counsel/HR Manager, what that looks like to the students we give opportunities to.

“The internship program at BFW/Marcum is an opportunity to apply the information and theory, which they’ve learned in classrooms, to real-world problems. It is the ability for hands-on learning which can make their classwork more salient, bridging the gap between concepts and true understanding. Interns bring with them cutting-edge engineering curriculum and ultimately bring to those institutions realistic applications of the engineering discipline, thus creating an equalized system of what is new and what is reliable.

Beyond learning how to apply their knowledge, interns cultivate soft skills, the value of which cannot be overstated. Internships help them learn to work in a professional environment and how to build a network. Hopefully, they connect with someone who can serve as a mentor or resource in the future. It also gives the students experience to discuss later when they interview for full-time positions. An effective internship allows them to say something significant about actual work they’ve done rather than just the classwork they completed. If a student does well in an internship, they have a competitive advantage when they look for a permanent position because it puts them in a position to instantly walk in with some relevant knowledge and confidence. 

At a minimum, internships allow us the opportunity to utilize talented individuals even if only temporarily. At its best, an internship serves as an extended interview, allowing us to identify talent and to assess students for competency, drive, and cultural fit. Additionally, internships complement the leadership skills we try to instill in all of our full-time employees.  It gives many of them the opportunity, even if just for a summer, to manage someone new who needs coaching and guidance. And because the employees hold themselves accountable to the interns, it multiplies leadership within the company.  Interns also bring with them a fresh, unjaded perspective. They are enthusiastic and trained in the latest techniques and technology which brings fresh energy to our workplace.”


Interns Bring Skills & Expertise to Their Communities

You might be familiar with the adage about teaching a man to fish rather than simply giving him something to eat. Internships can be viewed similarly; you’re giving a young person valuable skill, that then ripple out into their community. A gainfully employed community member brings money to their community, but equally valuable are the skills they can share and impart. Melissa explains this ecosystem, which often starts with an internship.

“Most directly, local economies benefit by the infusion of skilled workers into their communities, even if only temporarily. However, if the internship is successful, these jobs might become permanent for the intern, which adds value to the community in the form of skilled labor. This might also serve as a means for a student to return home for a summer or permanently upon graduation, leading to a stable population in that locale. We’ve all heard of brain drain when skilled workers leave an area. Internships can help skill-impoverished regions brings skills back to their towns, incrementally enriching the area.

On a larger scale, internships enhance society by closing the skill gap and by making employees more productive straight out of school. Additionally, it supports our educational institutions by assuring that academic institutions are being responsive to the needs of our industry. Students take the skills they learn during their internship back to school with them, and they can share their experience and knowledge with those around them.”

In Engineering, as with Anything, Relationships Are Most Important

As Melissa mentioned previously the importance of learning “soft skills”, which is to say, what you do as an engineer is just as important as how you do it, or even how you talk about it. She’s eager to emphasize that those skills are an integral component of creating a well-rounded engineer. At the end of the day, engineering is just as much about the relationships you build with the people, perhaps more, than it is about an individual’s raw technical ability.

“I think the most important thing our interns can focus on during their time here is using their assignments to learn how to build relationships.  Building a professional network, especially if it involves a positive professional reference or someone to call for additional career advice, can be an invaluable for new graduates. They can find someone to learn from in the short term and, possibly, a mentor in the long-term.”

Networking, mentoring, and references all have one thing in common that directly carries over to success as an engineer; something we want our interns to understand before they leave our firm in the fall. Quite simply, we hope they learn that relationships are the center of their (and our) future success.