A post-internship exit interview with three summer interns.

24 August 2022

As we look towards the end of summer, we want to take a moment to reflect on the impacts, success, and outcomes of the Focus summer internship program.

This year, Focus supported 3 summer interns from around the region supporting our construction staff across various projects. The Focus summer internship program, now in its 5th year of operation, focuses on offering real life exposure to the construction process where interns take ownership over their learning. Teams are trained and are expected to treat interns as full-time employees. Meaning that they receive the same level of respect and responsibility as all other team members. This means that they are also expected to make important contributions to their projects.

To best understand the outcomes of this year’s internship program, we sat down with our team of rockstar interns and asked them for the feedback. Their responses, the good, bad and the ugly... are below -

What were your expectations going into this internship?

Emmanuel Serrano: I was excited coming into the Focus internship program. I wanted to get my foot in the door working on high rise and midrise construction because I’ve always found that to be the most interesting type of construction. In my opinion, that is what makes cities so iconic. The first thing you see when you look up in Chicago is the buildings and for me that is the best career motivation out there. I was also eager to work with such an experienced team and even more broadly, the chance to work in a city like Chicago.

Jose Jimenez: Coming into the Focus summer internship program, I thought it was going to be like every other internship I’ve had. You are not given any responsibility, or you get overlooked. This time was different. When I started this internship, I immediately felt welcomed, especially within my team and they gave me responsibility that I thought I would never get. It was clear that they had a lot of trust in me and I was treated as an equal from the start.

Galilea Ines: Honestly, I was not sure what I was expecting when I first received this opportunity, but I was super excited to do something that would get me out of my comfort zone and learn about the differences between architecture and construction. This was a completely new experience for me. I had the opportunity to be on an active construction site and gain a real understanding of the building process including managing trades, budgets, schedules and more. Having had a few internship opportunities in the past this is the best internship experience I’ve had so far.

Describe what you have learned from this internship so far? What surprised you?

Jose Jimenez: What I’ve learned in this internship is that communication is key and being a good team member is a big factor in the success of a project. I also learned a lot about safety, which hasn’t been as big of a focus in other jobs that I’ve had. I was given opportunities to be a part of every safety orientation and perform recurring safety inspections on my jobsite and I think these skills will help me be a good Superintendent one day.

Emmanuel Serrano: I’ve learned a lot about the roles everyone plays. There are so many moving parts on a jobsite, and I feel like I better understand everyone’s responsibility. Like for instance, Superintendents are most concerned with the onsite management of the project including safety, trade management, and quality assurance while the Project Manager is the person who is responsible for everything behind the scenes. While the PM is equally concerned with what is happening on site, they also have to manage project financials, client experience and external consultants. In school you gain a theoretical understanding but during my time with Focus I gained firsthand experience and now I understand more about the industry than I did at the beginning of the program.

I’ll add that I learned a lot about building positive, professional relationships with everyone. Superintendents, laborers, subcontractors, ownership, doesn’t matter who, but you should strive to develop a positive relationship with everyone. A lot of that comes back to your attitude onsite, and how to carry yourself on the job.

Galilea Ines: Not only did I get to meet new people and learn about their lives and how they entered the construction industry, but I also learned about what can happen when the architecture of a project may not have been thoroughly planned out. As an architecture student I am taught the basics in design and focus on the best possible outcomes but during my time on the job site I saw the daily impacts and problem solving that go into successfully delivering a project. Additionally, during my time with Focus I learned about multiple types of construction, different trades, and creative problem. I was introduced to the preconstruction phase of a project which includes everything that gets a project to the starting line, from initial drawings and engineering, to setting up the draw and creating a logistics plan.

The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of women in the construction field. While Focus strives to recruit top female talent, and partners with students like me through the Chicago Scholars program, I learned that the larger industry needs to encourage women to pursue career in the construction industry.

Is there a different aspect of the industry that you weren’t aware of prior to this internship that you want to learn more about?

Emmanuel Serrano: Prior to this internship, I didn’t have any experience working on the owner’s side, but during my time with Focus I was involved in weekly calls with the owner and architect. Being in a room with the project owners gave me a whole new perspective on the industry and all that goes into commercial construction projects.

Galilea Ines: One thing I was not aware of prior to the start of my internship was how big the role of ownership is on a project aside from funding the project. Owners can positively or negatively impact a project just as easily as the contracts, zoning or the municipality can. Additionally, it is part of the job of the Project Manager and the Superintendent to effectively partner with ownership to deliver on the project vision in a safe and economically viable way. Additionally, I was unfamiliar with what happens in the construction process after an architect designs a building. Throughout my time here, not only did I ask lots of questions to learn about this but I also had multiple training sessions to discuss the process and received first hand exposure to the preconstruction process.

Jose Jimenez: One thing that I didn’t have experience with was scheduling and project phasing. It takes a lot! Teams are constantly rebuilding schedules based on the natural flow of construction. Sometimes schedules are delayed because of factors outside of the project team’s control and it is our responsibility to creatively solve schedule impacts without delaying or costing the project more money.

Describe your team? How were you treated?

Galilea Ines: Not only was I placed in a very welcoming and friendly environment, but my team was always willing to teach me new things and were willing to answer any of my questions. Something I really liked about my job site was that everyone treated each other with respect but more importantly like family. We have all seen each other in the best and the worst moods but we always talked things out and made sure that at the end of the day we were okay.

At my site, I felt less like an intern but more like someone who was a part of the team. Someone who would make an impact. I really enjoyed working with everyone here and I really appreciate how much they helped me gain new understanding. Thanks to my team and through the work that I did here at Focus I am now minoring in construction management. Once I graduate, I want to work in the construction field and manage a team as well as a variety of different projects.

Emmanuel Serrano: My team was the best part of this internship. I was on a very strong team where the members had a lot of wisdom, and I could easily call each of them a mentor. They had so much patience and encouraged me to ask any question that came to mind. Beyond that, they instilled a culture of family on our jobsite. They encouraged me to notice my colleagues and ask when someone might have something going on outside of work. I think it was the best part of the internship.

Jose Jimenez: My team was the best part of this experience. My team was always there to push me, and make sure that I’m always learning something new. They didn’t treat me like an intern, but instead they treated me like a peer.

What is one thing you will remember most about this experience?

Jose Jimenez: My team. Having that trust in me was huge. It’s really hard for someone coming in as an intern but to have the project team give you responsibilities that other full-time employees might have been entrusted with was a huge boost of confidence for me and a great learning experience overall.

Galilea Ines: A few things I will remember most about my experience here at Focus was visiting other sites to learn about other jobs & types of construction. This was something I really enjoyed as I got to learn about other projects, how they vary from each other, and how they are phased. I was able to visit a high-rise jobsite where I gained an understanding of the differences between precast concrete and steel construction and wood-frame construction. Differences like schedule, materials, building methods etc. This is how I learned that I really love working on high rise buildings. I also learned a lot about the trades. I interviewed foremen and I asked them about their experiences and for advice. These were some of the most impactful conversations during my internship and many gave the same advice:

  • Be teachable
  • Plan - Communicate - Coordinate
  • Think ahead
  • Challenge yourself
  • Have Patience
  • Help your team
  • Don't rush - enjoy
  • Sometimes it's okay to take a breather
  • Be confident - Be Heard

Emmanuel Serrano: The thing I’ll remember most about this internship are the people. Whether they were subcontractors or laborers on my project, or the internal team I felt like those relationships were most important and I will remember for years to come.

Would you recommend the Focus summer internship program? Why?

Emmanuel Serrano: I would recommend this Focus internship program. I think personally for me this has been the best experience I’ve had so far. You learn and grow so much while gaining exposure to many different aspects of the construction industry.

Galilea Ines: I would 100% recommend this internship for anyone interested in construction or related fields. You learn a lot about the development and building process as well as specifics in different trades, the pros and cons of different construction types, and it introduces you to something completely new every single day.

Something I enjoyed the most about this job was that every day was different. I was always on my feet and learning something new. Not only did I enjoy the process of watching it come together but I gained experience in things I never knew before, I got to meet some really cool and interesting people and I get to take a lot of what I learned and apply it to my career goals as well as apply it in the classroom when I begin school again in the Fall.

Jose Jimenez: Totally, Focus have been the best internship I’ve had.

To learn more about full-time or internship opportunities with Focus, please check our our careers page.

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