Kyle T. Webster

In the 30 years that Neil Kelly Co.  has worked with interns, the Portland, Ore., company has hired 30 of them as full-time employees. The internships — for students actively involved in a school program related to remodeling — “gave us a way to really focus on helping industry education and getting to know students who we thought of as the future of the industry and the future of Neil Kelly,” says Julia Spence, vice president of human resources and communications. And, Spence points out, students are knowledgeable and up to date on the latest trends, technology, and software, bringing fresh insights to the company.

Boston Green Building, in Allston, Mass., hosts two interns each quarter. Operations manager (and former intern) John Hourihan says that interns range from undergraduate and graduate students to more seasoned workers, and most internship inquiries come to the company via its website.

At Summit Design Remodeling, in Fairfax, Va., vice president Laurie Crum recently worked with an intern who is a former stay-at-home mom now taking National Kitchen & Bath Association  classes. To see if a career in K&B design was a good fit for her, “she shadowed different people to see our process from the initial point of meeting the prospect to developing the project,” Crum says. That intern came to Summit via an employee reference.

Making It Real

Spence assigns interns to Neil Kelly employees based on matching the intern’s specialty, and sends periodic reminders to other employees to take interns along with them to interesting projects or meetings. Interns are expected to take the initiative to pursue those aspects of the remodeling business that most interest them. “They have to have the ‘want,’” Hourihan says. “No one is going to force them to do anything.”

Neil Kelly also assigns interns a project. “It helps them dig into information and learn things,” Spence says. For example, a recent design intern had to find a relative or friend and design a new kitchen for that client. Once she had completed the design and consultation, she worked with the project management intern who created a schedule and an estimate for the design project.

Neil Kelly works with local universities. Students interested in an internship send a cover letter and résumé, and meet with Spence for an interview. The company also asks the students to commit to job shadowing with an employee for a day. “We get to know them a little bit and can make sure they know what they are getting into,” Spence says.

Though Boston Green Building has a less-structured approach with its internships, Hourihan and Butler still make a point of meeting with each candidate.

All the internships mentioned here are unpaid and, as Summit’s Crum points out, working with interns takes a lot of time. “It has to be a two-way street,” she says. “You have to mentor and share your knowledge, otherwise it just doesn’t work. It’s not free labor.”

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.