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Internships give design grads taste of real world

Posted online

by Steven Diegel

SBJ Contributing Writer

Hands-on experience is what it's all about.

The internship programs for architects and engineers serve a valuable function, according to area professionals in each field.

The firms receive recent graduates able to perform rudimentary tasks, freeing up more qualified workers for difficult projects. In return for their services, the interns gain valuable experience not always available from the textbooks, and the opportunity to put their considerable academic training into real-life applications.

"We try to give them exposure to everything, not only producing plans but the design aspects, implementation of the design plans, and the construction aspects," said Geoffery Butler, founding partner at Butler Rosenbury & Partners Inc. "The whole purpose of it is to give them training and prepare them for the architecture examination."

The architect interns and engineers in training are usually placed with more experienced individuals who serve as mentors, supervising activities and offering guidance on projects when necessary.

"They basically do what an architect or engineer does, but in a supervised environment," said Jeff Wells, a principal at Pellham-Phillips-Hagerman.

Interns start small, however, with difficulty levels remaining constant with their own level of ability.

"Usually they will start by doing small portions of a project very specific pieces of work and then build on that," Wells said. "They will do it under supervision and then gradually do more and more of it on their own."

As the intern gains more experience and becomes more comfortable with a particular phase, he or she moves on to even greater responsibilities many of which simply cannot be learned from textbooks, according to Butler.

"When they are in college, they are learning how to learn," Butler said. "They know all of the basics, but have no practical experience. We give them that."

That practical experience should serve to make the interns well-rounded people with broad experience, better prepared for the comprehensive qualification test which awaits them before becoming licensed professionals.

"They need to learn all phases," Wells said. "That way they really are qualified to be an architect."

The training given to the intern also fulfills a legal requirement which must be met before taking the comprehensive licensing exam to become a licensed architect or engineer.

"It is a legal requirement," Wells said. "You have to do so many years of internship before you can take the exam."

While the firm has to undertake the effort to provide training, interns serve as a valuable asset to the company, as well, fulfilling many functions and freeing up licensed architects for more difficult tasks.

"That is where you get your help," Butler said. A firm "can't function with just licensed architects."

Firms also benefit from a number of non-tangible elements, namely different perspectives and the new approaches offered by the interns which differ from the established norm.

"Not only do they produce plans, but they add flavor and culture and fresh ideas," Butler said.

The workload placed on interns varies from firm to firm, though most typically they work a standard full-time job of 40-plus hours per week more as the occasion demands.

"It is a job," Butler said. "They are not in school anymore, so they work it like a full-time job."

He said that many companies hire graduates to serve as interns, intending to train and groom them for eventual positions in the firm as architects or engineers after they receive licensing.

"We like to grow our own, so to speak," Butler said of this mutually beneficial arrangement.

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