Using the word ‘intern’ instead of ‘apprentice’ can make a substantial difference in your labor pool.

The second item of the team-building checklist found in the September 2006 column, “Just Say Yes,” is: “Newly hired trainees are called and treated as interns rather than indentured apprentices.” Wouldn’t you like to have your employees bragging about that to their families, friends and acquaintances? That is calledrecruiting power!

Webster’s dictionary defines apprentice as “one bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade. An inexperienced person.”

Does that sound inviting to any young man or woman with the ability and ambition to become a proud craftsman and move up to management positions? They certainly would not be proud enough to brag about it!

You could look a little further in that dictionary to the word intern, described as “an advanced student in a professional field gaining supervised practical experience.”

It’s easy to understand why simply changing a title would solve 90 percent of your skilled labor shortage. Naturally, the last 10 percent comes with treating those workers like interns rather than indentured apprentices.

Abolishing Indentured Servitude: Let’s look at some of the negatives of intern vs. apprentice, along with feasible resolutions:

1. Most indentures are for a specific time, usually four or five years.

Resolution: Every human being is different in willingness and ability to learn, intelligence, inherited craftsman skills and previous construction experience. By assigning your intern to work with one craftsman who has been trained to coach and develop necessary skills that are documented in your database skills inventory, your superstars can reach journeyman status in less than one year.

You need to monitor the progress of the intern as well as the master craftsman/mentor to assure bragging results. You can relate this process to a high school football coach recognizing a player’s potential and promoting a freshman to play with the varsity. That is the superstar you should always be developing to his or her full potential.

Fortunately, the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training permits paying your registered apprentices more than their posted timely rates. This provides a common sense incentive: The more you do, the more you make. Your mentor or jobsite foreman can use piecework or our 6-8-10 daily scorecard to reward each intern fairly.

2. In most mechanical and electrical contracting companies, apprentices are the lowest-paid employees and usually perform all of the grunt work, such as digging and backfilling ditches, carrying tools and materials, unloading trucks, and cleaning up, etc.

Resolution: This is easy to resolve by copying exactly how the masonry contractors treat their masons - as professionals. They hire common laborers called tenders who do all of the grunt work. Tenders handle all material, build and stock the scaffolds, unload and load all the trucks, etc.

Just imagine how much brick or block a mason could lay if he worked like mechanical and electrical contractors. This is simply called delegating and it truly allows your interns to perform and learn skills with your professional craftsmen.

3. Many of the journeymen who were indentured for four years resent an intern being treated as a professional and receiving quicker wage increases and a shorter-term internship.

Resolution: This is why it is so critical to monitor the progress of your intern as well as the mentor. You can easily monitor their learning and teaching on a monthly basis and change mentors if they are not keeping pace.

4. One complaint from the training craftsmen is the lack of time to get their jobs completed and still train their interns.

Resolution: Most of this training is called role reversal, where the intern becomes the craftsman and the mentor becomes his or her helper. Lunch time and coffee breaks, as well as before and after work hours, can be used for instructions, questions and explanations.

These hours are very effective for teaching blueprint reading and quantity surveys. Your interns should color on the drawings in the specs, shop drawings and code book showing what work they completed each day. This allows them to see it three dimensionally.

You can save a lot of your craftsman/mentor’s time by recruiting and utilizing retired, semi-retired or light-duty worker’s compensation employees in our Green & Gold mentoring program. With today’s cell phones, it is convenient for your intern to get help.

You should first ask your employees if they know a willing Gold mentor; also ask any elderly employee who worked for you in the past. Both America and Canada have thousands of retired craftsmen contractors and management employees who would be very proud to have an opportunity to “give something back” to the industry that was so good to them.

5. Another complaint is that the apprentice does not have enough tools and craftsmen do not like lending theirs.

Resolution: Your company should always maintain a loaner tool box available to your mentors.

6. Indentured apprentices must attend after-work classes on their own time and some must even pay for books, etc. Unfortunately, some of these classes are not related to the work your company performs. The worst aspect of these classes is that they are not coordinated with the work your apprentice is now doing. The training he or she needs in the first or second year is not scheduled until the third- or fourth-year curriculum.

Resolution: Your mentor can check ahead on the job’s schedule to predict the needed skills and utilize lead-time training to have your intern certified in whatever task he or she will be performing on that job.

  • You can train that task on the jobsite or at your fabrication shop.
  • You can arrange for vendor training or obtain how-to training tapes.
  • Interns can attend classes at your shop.
  • Interns can ask for training at Home Depot or other do-it-yourself retail stores.
  • You can send them to another jobsite where that specific task is being performed.
Keep in mind that you are not required to pay an employee for attending training classes if they are invited rather than being ordered to go. If anyone objects, just ask them who pays their way through college? Some of this training can produce a finished product that would be paid on a piecework basis.

In addition to the bragging benefits for your intern’s progress, wouldn’t it be nice to tell your customer, “This is a task-certified intern” rather than an inexperienced apprentice? This guarantees first-class quality!

A critical tool in an effective internship training program is the database skill inventory. This is similar to merit badges in the Boy Scouts. They have a list of skills that a scout must learn and accomplish to become an Eagle Scout. They train and certify each task to keep score. The necessary comparison is that the scout always knows what he doesn’t know, as well as what he has accomplished.

You need the same procedure. Simply list every task and tool that your intern must accomplish to become a journeyman. In addition to providing a bragging benefit for the intern, you will see how great a tool it is for you when scheduling your manpower and monitoring both the intern’s and the mentor’s progress.

It really doesn’t matter that some of you are required to have registered indentured apprentices. What is crucial is that you never call them that or treat them like indentured, inexperienced employees.

When you call them interns and treat them as interns working with and learning from professional craftsmen, you will enjoy those precious “Three Ps in a pod” - pride, productivity and profit.