Starting Small Can Yield Big Rewards


Starting Small Can Yield Big Rewards

An informal internship program can be a perfect way to start

“Our internship efforts to date haven’t been very sophisticated; they’ve been more opportunistic. We’re just being open-minded to any potential channel for recruiting high quality people,” says Mike Bugbee, a partner for business development at Oregon Truss Co., Inc. in Salem, Oregon. This concept of keeping it simple and looking for various ways to make connections is a great way to start an internship program. You can look for opportunities within your community through different events or groups such as job centers, career fairs, school trade programs, or any other local group that may connect you to future interns or employees. 

Students involved in the Career Technical Education Center’s Residential Construction Program

Mike shared that their first interns came from a partnership with the Career Technical Education Center’s Residential Construction Program. “We got started back in 2017 when we were desperate for designers and recruiting heavily for them, so we brought in two interns to help support other designers,” says Mike. “We were looking at any and all channels where we could get designer trainees.” 

To get started, Mike got involved with the group to donate materials and provide training opportunities. “We presented to the seniors explaining the roles that are available to them and gave them an idea of career growth potential and what they could make,” Mike says. From this partnership, Oregon Truss hired two interns and one went on to work for a builder and the other is coming back to work for them for her third summer.

Another recruiting channel that Mike’s been facilitating is with the local high school. “We’re working with the local high school to provide materials for their building trade’s curriculum. We’ve offered to come in and present to some of their classes on issues related to trusses like bracing and elements of truss design but they haven’t fit it into the coursework yet,” Mike shares. “They were very excited when we discussed it and appreciated the syllabus we outlined. Our intent, and the crux of the discussion, is this would be something we could offer each year at the senior level, if it works out.” 

Once a relationship with the local school is built, it’s something that will perpetuate itself for years to come. Roy Bedient, production manager with Warman Truss, can relate as they’ve been hiring interns through the same school for 15 years. “I was always involved with the school, both coaching and as a father and I got to know the teachers and one day they asked if I’d be interested in taking in interns to help students get credits,” Roy explains. “At the time it was some free labor and training students, it was as simple as that.”

The students usually get started with the internship toward the end of their semester and put in 80 hours to get the credit. This covers a lot of training time if they stay on with the company. “We bring them in for work experience and education credit and three out of four times we get an employee down the road out of it. It benefits both of us,” says Roy. He adds that “we’re always looking for summer employment. It’s an opportunity for the students to work through the summer or find full-time employment in the community. It’s worked well from the start and continues to work well for us.” This is evident in the two employees who started out as interns and have now been with Warman Truss for ten years. They currently work as table leads and run a small crew.

Fifteen years later, Roy believes that the internship program that started with just a question has been fulfilling ever since. “We just do it for the kids and the school. We see that it helps them to grow and that what some of them need is structure. They can understand how the real world works in the work environment and it helps prepare them. For me, it doesn’t cost a thing.” 

If you’re looking to recruit interns, it’s worthwhile to consider a variety of channels within your community. It’s not much to invest on the front end to make people aware of who you are and the job opportunities that you offer. Building these relationships can be a rewarding way to have other eyes and ears in the community that are motivated on your behalf to help you find employees. And just as Roy and Mike shared, it can be just a simple plan that once off the ground will be a great investment over time.

To get started, read other case studies on how component manufacturers are approaching internships and check out SBCA’s resource on Internship Program Guidelines to customize and create an internship program that works for you. 

About the Author: Laura Soderlund explores business and manufacturing best practices to help component manufacturers advance the use of their innovative products.