In mid-March, everything changed for Veronica Osorio-Cortes: No more in-person projects with her architectural engineering classmates at Kansas State University, no more fun nights out in Aggieville with friends, and nothing resembling a normal graduation ceremony to celebrate her years of hard work.
In what’s being called the worst job market since the Great Depression, employment was the one thing Veronica did not have to worry about. Her winter internship at Dialectic was secure—and so was the full-time job we have waiting for her in June.
Many of Veronica’s fellow college students aren’t so lucky. The pandemic forced companies to shutter their internship programs – internship hiring in May 2020 tumbled nearly 50% from a year ago, according to Glassdoor.com – and several have even rescinded job offers to recent college grads.
We decided early in the pandemic that keeping the promises we made to our interns and soon-to-be new graduates was a no-brainer. As our CEO Greg Trees explained, “Our industry is already facing a major pipeline problem. As leaders in MEP engineering, we not only must avoid widening the talent gap, we must also do everything in our power to narrow it.”
Drafting the players
Narrowing that gap starts with building a roster, which for us means taking a different approach to recruiting. Instead of standing behind a table at a recruiting fair and giving a presentation, we take students out for bowling and pizza. Not only do we get to interact with them in a relaxed, real-world setting, we also get to see students’ soft skills, which play a huge part in our evaluation process to determine whether candidates will be a good fit for our culture (and vice versa).
That’s where we met Osorio-Cortes this past fall, and we made her an offer a few short weeks later. It didn’t take her long to decide. Even though several other firms were interested in her, Veronica said she was excited about working for Dialectic: “It was an obvious choice for me. I really liked them. I felt like I fit in with them.”
Typically, engineering students don’t hear from the firm that’s hired them as an intern or FTE again until their start dates in May or June. But at Dialectic, we’re engineering a better experience, and that means integrating all new hires – including interns – into the team immediately.
Creating a minor league system
Right off the bat, we treat our new hires as employees, including them on company emails and special celebrations. Like Veronica, some of them even worked 10 hours a week as winter interns while finishing up classes. Our goal is to get them trained and working so when summer starts, we’ve already worked out the bugs.
Competition for good engineering talent is fierce, and that’s another reason we onboard interns and make them feel like part of the team as quickly as possible. “If we don’t maintain relationships with our interns, we’ll lose them to other industries,” said Chief Business Officer Marcus Howell. “It’s our responsibility to take care of them, not just for the benefit of Dialectic and our clients, but for the good of the industry. It’s critical that we keep the minor league team going.”
That approach is appealing to prospective interns. “I already felt like a part of the team,” Osorio-Cortes said. “It’s the number one aspect of why I wanted to go with Dialectic.”
Letting the rookies play
The work is fulfilling as well. Interns at Dialectic don’t spend their summer unjamming the copier or making coffee runs. Instead, they quickly become full-fledged members of the team, working on projects for some of the company’s biggest clients, including Amazon and Apple.
“We want it to be mutually beneficial,” Howell said. “We hope that at the end of the summer, they’ve learned something and want to come back to work for us after graduation.”
And that’s exactly what happened for Osorio-Cortes. After working as a winter intern, she’ll join the team full-time next month.
Swinging for the fences
The lack of internships this summer could have dire consequences for the future of STEM professions like ours. In fact, AnitaB.org reports that canceling internship programs “could have an irreversible, long-lasting impact on the science and technology pool, causing a loss of diversity and a deficit in talent … for years to come.”
For those of us who saw so many budding engineers opt out of the profession during the last recession to find work in other fields, a repeat just isn’t acceptable. What we contribute to the world is too important to do anything less than swinging for the fences when it comes to attracting and nurturing the next generation of engineering MVPs.
Founded in 1988, Dialectic Engineering is a 100% employee-owned, nontraditional mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering firm that brings buildings to life across a broad range of verticals. Learn more at dialecticeng.com.