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Investing in interns: part 2

World Cement,

Read part 1 here.

Feedback and results

Feedback about the programme was essential. At the end of the assignment period, the interns completed an online survey to help the company evaluate the effectiveness of the programme, as well as opportunities for improvement in following years. CPC achieved 100% participation in the survey and 100% of the participants self-identified.

The company offered 20 internships to students from 13 target universities for the 2013 programme. This included engineers assigned to 15 plant operations in various western US regions, and five positions in the Corporate Engineering Services division in Glendora, California. Many companies, even within the cement industry, hire more summer interns than CPC. However, the company’s objective was to carefully select students with potential for regular employment and provide a positive, closely monitored experience. It was decided that keeping the programme small would ensure more positive outcomes – and it worked.

In 2014, CPC had 25 – 30 requests for summer interns, but decided to limit the programme to only 20. The programme was expanded to include opportunities in non-engineering disciplines. The company set a target that approximately 30% of the intern assignments would be reserved for students of existing employees, as long as they meet all other programme criteria. The programme is expected to grow in 2015, but looking forward the company will only add interns if it complies with its core values.

One of the unplanned, but positive outcomes of the programme was the interaction and mutual understanding that occurred between students and the mentors/managers. All companies face issues with clashing values in the multi-generational workforce. As many of CPC’s mentors/managers are between the ages of 50 – 68, and students are between the ages of 19 – 34, the opportunity for the student and manager/mentor to appreciate the positive aspects of each generational perspective was invaluable. As a result, CalPortland has integrated some of these learnings across the organisation, by specifically and deliberately assigning older and younger employees to work on teams and joint projects. CPC has also learned a lot about the motivators for the student generation, and is including these in its retention programmes. In general, the company found the following characteristics:

  • The younger generation enjoy challenges with a high degree of responsibility and opportunity for creative input.
  • They want to know why they should work for a company and what the company can offer them.
  • They respond well to managers who treat them as colleagues rather than subordinates.
  • They have a desire for on-demand information.
  • Training and growth opportunity is critical.
  • They rely on social media to form impressions of the company, i.e., Facebook, Glassdoor and YouTube.
  • They do not necessarily value Benefits and Retirement programmes.
  • They value companies that are environmentally and socially responsible.

The following examinination of the summer internship programme in the Corporate Engineering Services division will demonstrate how the company has incorporated these student characteristics, while remaining committed to the original and successful employment model attributes of the CalPortland culture.

Case study: Corporate Engineering Services

The Engineering division provides engineering design, technical support, capital project assistance and project/construction management to all plants within the company. This group of 15 engineers covers nearly all engineering disciplines required to support the company’s cement and construction materials operations. As a result, it is a logical place for engineers to start, as they will be exposed to the various engineering applications, projects and manufacturing processes. CPC believes it is necessary to have tiered experience levels in the engineering division for good succession planning. Very experienced engineers are desirable; however, it is equally important to take on younger people that will learn from the more experienced engineers and eventually become the future engineers of the company.

When interns start, they are assigned to a senior level engineer who will be their supervisor and provide technical oversight and mentoring. CPC’s engineering department works collaboratively within the department and throughout the rest of the company. This allows the interns to be introduced to various engineering concepts, be mentored by experienced engineers and be exposed to many different plants and processes. Interns are given real engineering design and project work. Although they may have to undertake some necessary menial or tedious tasks, the intention is to have them carry out constructive and usable engineering work. Intern supervisors check their work and guide them, but they allow them to do the engineering themselves. Examples of intern projects include: developing structural calcs, designing access platforms and other structures, performing electrical arc flash studies, creating models of cement storage vs customer sales, creating energy benchmarking reports, and performing studies on natural gas applications.

Interns are evaluated not only on their technical competency, but also on their ability to work with others and integrate into the CPC culture. Another advantage of the intern programme is that CPC is able to utilise good engineering talent for a reasonable cost. Interns are paid well, but it is less than the cost of a full-time engineer or consultant. The company works closely with young engineering employees to create a professional development plan. It became evident that recent graduate engineering hires are very interested in pursuing their Professional Engineering (PE) license. CPC supports their efforts to take the Engineering-In-Training (EIT) and PE exams, pays for preparation classes and provides wage increases when they pass the exams. CPC also works with young engineers to ensure that they have the proper professional engineering supervision for them to meet the PE certification requirements.

New employees at cement plants go through a training programme that includes rotation through the various plant departments so they have a good understanding of the functions performed by each area and establish working relationships with many employees throughout the plant.


CPC has been successful in hiring several former interns, both in the corporate office and in its manufacturing plants. Historically, many employees who were once interns have been with the company for their entire careers. Those employees have also advanced in their positions and some are currently working in senior positions. This programme is the cornerstone of the company’s overall long-term employment strategy. Over 40 interns have been sponsored over the past two years, and the company has hired nine participants.

Written by Betsy Lamb and Stephen J. Coppinger, CalPortland Company, USA. This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the April 2015 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can read the full article by logging in. They can also read the magazine on smart phones and tablets by downloading World Cement’s app.

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