Internships with Purpose: Constructing the Future

March 26th, 2019

By taking a unique approach with internships, Centra Homes has built a reputation for developing the next generation of construction management leaders while also creating a pipeline of qualified job candidates to build their business.

“This is going to involve a lot of grunt work,” Kodey Johnson remembers thinking.  

The year was 2016 and Johnson was considering interviewing for an internship with Centra Homes.  He was a sophomore studying Design and Construction Management at BYU-Idaho at the time. Like all students in his course of study, Johnson was required to complete two internships prior to graduation.

Not afraid of hard work, he ultimately decided to take the interview and learn more.

“What was really striking, even in the interview,” Johnson recalls, “was that I had gotten it wrong.  This wasn’t cheap labor for grunt work, it was more of an opportunity for us to stretch ourselves.”

Johnson ultimately landed the internship and joined three other students as members of the inaugural intern class for Centra.

While his team did plenty of hard work including sheetrock, flooring and landscaping, the experience was as advertised with chances to learn the administrative side of the business and help managing subcontractors.  Most importantly for Johnson, he says it offered him a “big picture” view of the business across the many roles and responsibilities.  

The Centra Intern Model

The idea for the intern program came from Centra Homes President Dale Wills, who was facing a labor shortage and looking for unique ways to engage young people.  He says there was a clear goal from day one — engage new talent by offering growth opportunities.

“We envisioned this program as a way to get work done but also grow people,”  says Wills, “I knew it could give students to chance to get real-world experience while also allowing Centra to invest in the future of our industry.”

In the three years since its launch, 42 interns have made their way from Idaho to the Twin Cities to work for Centra Homes.  Each has been given a chance to obtain the hands-on experience they need to begin their careers. Students are slotted in as laborers, assistant project managers or purchasing assistants based on their career aspirations and experience.

In addition to the paid internship, the program also offers an additional feature that college students can appreciate — free rent.  While enrolled in the program, interns live in Centra-owned apartments, even as they build their skills by remodeling the very properties they inhabit.

Partnership with BYU-Idaho

Shawn Jensen, a Professor of Design and Construction Management at BYU-Idaho, attributes a portion of the success of the program to his university’s unique three-track system.  Students at the Rexburg, Idaho school follow a model that alternates a third of students off each trimester.

Jensen says that this leads to increased availability for internships via the 14-week gaps spread throughout the year, offering flexibility for intern programs like Centra’s.  But while the trimester’s are a driver of the success of the program, the larger one lies with its focus.

“What is unique about Dale’s approach is that he allows students the chance to take on as much as they’d like to take on,” says Jensen, “our interns submit weekly reports about their experiences and students in Dale’s program always have positive things to say.”

Jensen provides the example of allowing students to get hands-on experience with skills like estimating.  He appreciates the partnership with Centra so much, he regularly invites Wills to fill in as a guest lecturer in his class when he comes to town to recruit interns.

“It is very beneficial for students to connect what they are learning with actual case studies,” says Jensen, “Dale does a great job with that.”

In addition to his work teaching, Jensen also serves as the coordinator of the internship program at BYU-Idaho, working extensively with partners like Centra Homes. For Centra, that means working directly with Centra’s own intern program coordinator — Kodey Johnson.

Yes, the same Kodey Johnson who was in the first crop of interns for Centa back in 2017.  A journey that began with indecision has now spanned two internships with the firm and ultimately led to a career.

Johnson is now a Project Manager with Centra Homes and paying it forward by administering the very intern program that gave him his start.

“Kodey represents a real success story for our intern program.  And while the program played a role in that, Kodey’s work ethic has contributed much more.  
He’s taken on every challenge and we’ve been blessed to have him.”

—   Dale Wills, Centra Homes Founder and President

 

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