Rchard Bermack Photography


High School Student
Interns Take on the Building Trades
Organized Labor
August 2009

The first year of the San Francisco Unified School District’s summer internship construction pathways program was a success. The program was created by a project labor agreement governing the renovation of San Francisco schools. The agreement stipulated that contractors provide internships for high school students. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to teach young kids and give them an opportunity to experience what it would be like to have a career in the building trades,” states Gus Amador, the instructor from Carpenters Local 22. “They got to experience the good, bad and indifferent, and now they can follow their hearts to make the right decision on a career path.”

The students were under 18, so they couldn’t do actual construction work and spent most of their time in a trailer helping the project manager. This turned out to be a plus, according to Amador. “They got exposure to the behind-the-scenes of the building trades, the financial end, and got to ask questions and got mentorship from project managers and foremen,” he explains. At the most successful sites, the interns were able to do paper work and to follow workers from different trades around the jobsite.

“Everyone is thrilled to death,” states Lynn Garcia, San Francisco Unified School Internship Coordinator. “The employers told us the students exceeded their expectations. They couldn’t believe these were high school students. They outperformed many of the college interns they were used to dealing with. They were so well versed in computer skills and software programs.”

Garcia, who has worked with the program’s placement in other fields, was amazed at how the students took to the construction trades. “There was one young student, I took one look at her and thought she was in over her head, but she fit right in. Several of the employers may keep the students on as interns after our program ends.”

One problem that both Garcia and Amador noted is that many of the employers weren’t really prepared to deal with the interns. They agreed to take on the interns, but they hadn’t thought through what it would take to create a meaningful learning experience for the student and a productive experience for the contractor. “Next year we will have a better orientation for the contractors so they are aware of what to expect and what is expected of them, so they can prepare their project managers to work with the interns,” Garcia concluded. Building Trades Council Secretary Treasurer Michael Theriault was equally excited about the programs results and prospects for next year. “We are learning from the mistakes, and next year it is going to be even better,” he stated. The program placed 12 interns at construction sites this year and plans to double that number next year.

The program consisted of classroom hours and placements in the field. On the Jobsite visited the classroom at Mission High School during one of Gus Amador’s classes and jobsites at Sutro Elementary School, Commodore Stockton Elementary School, and the office of Kingdom Pipeline.