Interns get training and a foot in the doorJohn Acheson is a summer intern at The Boldt Company’s Cloquet office, where the North Dakota State University graduate is learning all kinds of things about the construction industry. And that’s exactly what he was hoping for.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Figuring out how to dress for work can be challenging for intern John Acheson.
“Some days I’m up here doing office work,” said Acheson. “Other days I’m at Mercy Hospital wearing a hard hat, vest and boots.”
Acheson is a summer intern at The Boldt Company’s Cloquet office, where the North Dakota State University graduate is learning all kinds of things about the construction industry. And that’s exactly what he was hoping for, said Acheson, who actually got his bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship, graduating in December.
Shelly Peterson, who oversees the interns in Cloquet and is Boldt vice president and general manager of Minnesota operations, said she is a strong supporter of internships as a way of developing the future workforce.
She talked about predictions — fast becoming reality — that there will soon be a shortage of qualified employees as the massive Baby Boomer generation retires.
“It will hit the unions hard, and that’s where I get my guys,” said Peterson, telling how the subject of a shrinking workforce had come up at a recent Cloquet Economic Development Authority meeting. “Internships can give students a chance to make a little money and give them an idea of what it’s really like out there in the workforce.
Of course, Boldt isn’t the only local company with interns. The Pine Journal debuted the writing skills of its first high school intern in several years, Luke Heine, and will be looking for another next summer. USG offers several internship-type positions and Sappi Fine Paper has several long-term internship opportunities: one each for pulp technical, paper mill technical and environmental, according to Sappi Human Resources manager Jim Skrbec.
While Sappi’s internship programs last between a year and 15 months — they usually recruit through the University of Minnesota Duluth but invite interested students to call the company’s HR office — Peterson said Boldt’s local internship program tends to be summer only.
In a typical summer, Boldt’s Cloquet office would hire three interns: one high school student for general summer office help plus two current or recently graduated college students — one for an engineering student and one for business.
This summer Acheson basically ended up as a hybrid of the two more technical positions.
“He does a little bit of everything,” Peterson said. “Right now we have him appointed as a field engineer on our Mercy Hospital [in Moose Lake] project, which is moving from the preconstruction stage into construction.”
Hence the hard hat and work boots. But did we mention that his other constant accessory is an iPad?
A big part of Acheson’s duties on the Mercy Hospital project has been uploading the updated drawings and specs for the project using the “plan grid” app. Then the people in the field have all the latest information at their fingertips on their iPads rather than going back to the office constantly to refer to the plan.
As someone who wants to get into a “continuous improvement” position, Acheson loves working with the newer technology.
“We’re hoping when we get to the point where we’re actually building the walls, we can actually take a picture of the electrical [wiring] behind a wall and attach it behind the drawing on the iPad,” Peterson explained. “Then, when the project is done, the owner will have an idea — not only what the plan says but what it actually looks like behind the walls.”
Peterson explained BIM, or Business Information Modeling, a relatively new technology in this part of the country.
“We build it in the the computer before we actually build it, build it,” she said. “John will be the driving force of BIM for this project.”
As part of his job working with new technologies for the Cloquet office, Acheson said he’s also gotten to talk to people across the company, which has locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Oklahoma and California, along with project sites in other states.
Acheson is one of over 100 students across the country who have participated in Boldt’s internship program since it was formalized about five years ago.
“I was anything but a ‘go-fer,’” said Northern Michigan University student Curtis Brown of his recent internship at The Boldt Company. “When you’re in class you learn how things should work, but nothing ever quite goes that way. Boldt didn’t hold anything back from me over the internship, so I felt like was in a great position for graduation.”
Acheson said he would advise anyone starting an internship to ask questions and soak it all in.
"Learn as much as you can," he said. "A lot of times you're about to start a task and you have no idea. Then it turns into something you can pick up quickly.
"You have to trust the process," Peterson added.
The experience gained from responsibilities Boldt interns take on, while invaluable during a job search, often make such a search unnecessary.
“Our thorough recruiting process and effective mentors yield a lot of talented interns who often grow their roles so much during their internship that we hire them permanently,” said Jamie Nenahlo, director of employee services at Boldt.
“It gives us a good opportunity to know what their work ethic is, how fast they learn, do they fit into our culture, do they have a passion, do they work ethically?” she said. “If they do, we will try to re-engage them in the system, if not in our location, then somewhere else.”
While there are no formal arrangements in place, Peterson hinted strongly that Acheson will likely be hired full-time once his internship ends, if not in Cloquet, then somewhere else in the company.
“The sky’s the limit,” she said.