During my time at Clemson, I was fortunate to work as an intern on a project management team at a respected general contractor. While it was not the glitz and glamor of being an intern at a large design firm like I initially was hoping for, the skills and experience I gained there are irreplaceable. During my time there I gained necessary field experience while learning valuable relationship, communication, and fundamental project management skills.
The field experience I gained while working for a General Contractor was irreplaceable. You can look at plans, listen to lectures, and watch informational videos to gain insight to learn how to do certain things but there is no substitute for being on-site and overseeing the implementation of the systems you hope to one day design. While performing odd jobs around the site did allow me to freshen up on practical skills like using a builder’s level to confirm elevations, most importantly it instilled in me humility and grit. While cutting boards, setting anchor bolts, and using a sledgehammer are not skills that transfer directly into the design world, it does teach hard work and humbles you lest you think your crisp degree and shiny class ring makes you any better than the tradesman that will interpret and construct your plans.
One of the most important things I learned while working at a general contractor was communication and relationship skills. As an intern at a construction company, you will spend a lot of time communicating on the phone and in person. You must learn to communicate with a range of audiences from temporary laborers to suited land developers. I speak for myself, and possibly my generation when I say I did not realize how bad my communication skills were before I began using them in a professional capacity. Through working at a general contractor, I gained much more confidence in my communication, and that is a valuable skill no matter what industry you land in.
Of course, while working there I also learned valuable project management skills, and in a broader stroke, time management. I learned how to juggle several jobs at a time, and the value of little things like writing everything down, making task lists, and organizing your emails. As an engineer you need to maximize your time, which is always limited, to provide your client and your own company the most value possible.
To all the engineering students looking for that prized internship, think twice before you pass over the many general contractors who would love to give you a shot. I enjoyed my time there, and while at the end of the day it was not the career path I wanted, I still gained valuable experience that I do not believe I would find anywhere else. Your story may be different, and you may land at a general contractor and decide that is the field within which you want to plant your roots. But whatever your career aspirations are, do not shy away from trying new things, and soak up as much value as you can everywhere you go.