Western Specialty Contractors Plans for Its Future Through Robust College Recruitment, Hands-On Internship Program

Words: Todd Fredrick

Words & Photos: Western Speciality Contractors

In today’s fast-growing construction environment, fueled by the nation’s strong economic growth, contractors nationwide are struggling to fill a surplus of skilled labor and management positions left vacant by retiring Baby Boomers and a shortage of interested, qualified workers.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction jobs will grow faster than the average for all other occupations from 2014 to 2024. In order to fill these growing number of openings, contractors must think out of the box and take a pro-active approach to cultivating its workforce at the college level.  

To expose college students to careers in specialty contracting and begin developing qualified employees to fill its management positions long-term, Western Specialty Contractors, the nation's largest specialty contractor in masonry and concrete restoration, waterproofing and roofing, recruits its candidates from leading construction management colleges and universities across the country for its comprehensive, hands-on internship program. In a nutshell, Western’s internship program is a pipeline for acquiring future employees.  

"We believe the growth of our workforce depends on a strong internship program," said Maria Traina, Director of Human Resources at Western Specialty Contractors.  

Visits to colleges and universities are typically made by a combination of human resources staff, Western's branch managers, and Western project managers who offer students a first-hand perspective into the specialty field of restoration construction and preventative waterproofing. Those students who take part in Western's internship program have the opportunity to gain much more than traditional work experience.  

"With various levels of opportunities and an individual approach, our interns are exposed to everything from sales and project management to work in the field," said Tom Brooks, Western’s Chief Operating Officer.  

Western Specialty Contractors’ internship program is designed to hire students during their freshman year throughout their senior year. The program allows the students to work in a field environment, as well as an office environment. During this time, they will be able to obtain valuable experience that can be utilized to further their potential for full-time employment with Western.  

The intern and their supervisor work to develop a personalized training program consisting of several of the following tasks: 

Marketing/Business Development: 

  • Help develop branch marketing tracking. 
  • Assist sales/project managers in scheduling, coordination and presenting when necessary at workshops, seminars, lunch n learns and other business development opportunities.  
  • Help implement the branches marketing plans. 
  • Participate in sales calls with the branch manager or sales/project managers. 
  • Assist branch staff through all phases of business development. 

Field Operations: 

  • Obtaining permits, checking zoning and code requirements, and arranging temporary facilities and utility services. 
  • Supervising punch-list and Quality Assurance activities, conducting safety inspections. 
  • Preparing for and scheduling city, county, fire and other inspections. 
  • Assisting with surveying, testing, sample collection, shop drawing correction, filing and checking of material deliveries. 
  • Verifying work hours, materials and other elements necessary for tracking productivity and/or work in place. 
  • Assisting with schedule and cost control, inventory control and daily job reporting. 
  • Learning and understanding the restoration trades. 
  • Other duties as practical for intern placement. 

Office Operations: 

  • Preparing quantity takeoffs, calling vendors and/or sub-contractors for proposals. 
  • Checking drawings and specifications for completeness, discrepancies, etc. 
  • Attending pre-bid, bid openings, job site, in-house sales, foreman and safety meetings, etc. 
  • Taking notes, making records and completing forms. 
  • Assisting with project record keeping, preparing shop drawings and assisting with cost control records. 
  • Participating in different aspects of business development. 
  • Other duties as practical for intern placement. 

Project Management: 

  • Assisting Project Managers and Superintendents at as high a responsibility level as practical. 
  • Planning and scheduling, preparing requests for progress payment and processing change orders. 
  • Creating and tracking construction schedules, submittal schedules, submittal logs and processing submittals. 
  • Procuring and expediting materials. 
  • Observing and creating/updating minutes for jobsite meetings (subcontractor, foreman, safety, etc.) 
  • Updating/redlining drawings, etc. 
  • Other duties as practical for intern placement.  

Western’s interns are put on the fast track to promotions because they get advanced training and education about the company which makes them ready for when they are hired full-time. On average, 85% of Western’s interns who are offered a full-time position accept the offer, compared to the national average of just 45.6%. 

Additionally, over 85% of Western's managers have been promoted from within the company. Initiative and hard work are rewarded at Western with competitive salaries, excellent benefits including a 401K match, and tuition reimbursement, as well as advancement opportunities. 

With over 100 years of experience, and in a constant state of growth, Western hasn't lost sight of its roots as a hard-working, family-operated business striving to exceed expectations, which is why Western has been able to attract, hire and most importantly keep some of the best talent in the industry with its top training/internship program and career pathing. 

Josh Woolard, a former intern at Western's Chicago Branch, was hired by Western and is currently working as a Project Manager at Western's Springfield, IL Branch. For Woolard, the hands-on experience he received while an intern was the most beneficial.  

"I didn't want to be with a general contractor. I liked the specialized contracting. I got to look at a set of plans and figure out exactly what was going to need to happen and the best way to get it done, pleasing the customer and also helping Western. I got to go on-site. It was really interesting," said Woolard.  

For Teddy Williams, gaining a well-rounded perspective of the construction business through his internship at Western helped him to determine his career path. Williams currently works in Western's St. Louis headquarters as a Content Marketing Manager.  

"They really teach you the ins and the outs of the business," said Williams. "Western is going to make sure you learn everything you want to in all aspects of the business. They really care that you really learn something in detail and really understand how the whole business itself and the construction industry works.”  

From its founding in 1915, Western Specialty Contractors has made developing its workforce a priority, by ensuring that every employee feels like they are part of the family business and giving them the tools and authority to make their own decisions and exercise their own responsibility in the performance of their jobs. As a family-orientated company, Western strives to be a great place to work, and it shows in how they recruit, train, develop and retain its highly-skilled employees.  

Headquartered in St. Louis, MO, Western Specialty Contractors has over 30 branch offices and member companies nationwide and employs more than 1,250 salaried and hourly professionals and executes more than 3,000 contracts each year.  

“Quality is the key to our success, both in the past and in the future. We are a service-oriented and people-orientated company. Our employees are our most important asset because we continue to build our business on their positive attitudes and their talents,” said Western Chairman of the Board Emeritus, Benjamin Bishop, Sr.  

Throughout its 100-year history, Western Specialty Contractors has continually shown appreciation to the employees who have helped to make it the successful company it is today. Through decades of success, struggles and growth, Western’s employees have remained a constant source of support and dedication, and for that Western is grateful.  

“There is so much for us to be proud of over the course of our 100-year history,” said Western CEO Benjamin Bishop, Jr. “We are particularly grateful to all of our dedicated employees throughout the years. None of our success would be possible without the people who have been a part of Western over the years. They are the real key to our success and make me the most proud.”  

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