JLB Architectural Engineering, located in York, Pa., has a well-oiled internship program that has payed dividends for both the students and the company.

The construction industry is facing a well-reported labor shortage due to a thinning pipeline of skilled workers. This growing concern is not lost on the glass and glazing industry. However, one company in York, Pa., won’t be worried about it any time soon and is setting an example for others to follow.

Over the last decade, JLB Architectural Engineering, an architectural shop drawings service provider for the glazing industry, has developed a well-oiled internship program. It provides up-and-comers from the mid-teens to early 20s valuable hands-on experience and a springboard to a career in an industry desperate for talent.

“This is something we’ve been doing for a while, and we really didn’t realize what we had until people starting pointing out how valuable it is,” says JLB president Jeffrey Bortner. “… They’re working on everything from two elevations on small projects to a 27-story building in New York City, providing floor plan help to doing take-offs… the longer they’re here, they get more and more experience doing detailing.”

The company developed an 80-hour internship program, and for the past three years, it has given presentations at schools in the area and talking with students about opportunities in the architectural field. JLB has since maintained a steady flow of interns to work alongside its employees, which currently total 24. Many interns stay with the company in some capacity once their program is up—for a span of months or years.

Bennett Halstead, who started with JLB as an intern two years ago and is now a full time employee, speaks at a recently open house event.
Bennett Halstead, who started with JLB as an intern two years ago and is now a full time employee, speaks at a recently open house event.

Bortner says approximately 85 percent of the interns eventually become part-time or full-time employees. “We’re training them from the beginning,” says Bortner. “… Everything we do, we just keep building upon it.”

Jesse Shaffer started with JLB as an intern eight years ago and is now a senior project manager with the company. “I never even considered the glass and glazing industry, but when I heard about the internship opportunity, I jumped on it and learned to really love it,” he says. “What’s great about it is I can go to a given city and see buildings I’ve worked on or helped lay out. I find that amazing, and I would’ve never thought I’d be doing this stuff. It’s just such a neat industry with so much going on, and it’s growing.”

“We had another young guy who started with us many years ago as a senior in high school,” says Bortner. “He went on to college and came here to work during every break. Now he’s a certified architect, and we had him back for our open house [last year]. He was so far ahead of his peers in terms of drafting and design. He understood most concepts that most architects don’t even understand.” Bortner says at least ten of JLB’s interns have gone on to advanced degrees in architecture and engineering.

Tristan Luong, who is entering his senior year in high school, started his internship 18 months ago and is now a part-time CAD operator. “JLB came to my school during my sophomore year, and when I first heard ‘architectural engineering,’ I was interested,” he says. “I go in there, and they start talking about windows … it interested me because it’s something I’d never really heard about. After I interviewed and got the job, I learned really quickly about the content itself—storefront, window wall, curtainwall. But I also learned the sales processes, how to interact with customers, and all kinds of things to do with the general business aspect of running a company and being part of a company.”

Luong worked two hours a day at the start of his internship and now spends five to six hours a day with JLB, thanks to an arrangement he worked out with his school. He also now participates in JLB’s presentations at schools to talk to his peers about working with the company.

Bennett Halstead began with JLB as an intern and is now full-time CAD operator. He heard about the opportunity from a friend and initially worked once a week, admittedly not putting his heart into it at the time.

“Over time, I began to see what they were offering—a key to an industry you wouldn’t otherwise hear about,” he says. “When I started really paying attention and caring more, it revealed a lot to me. Now I look at buildings differently. … Also, the discipline I’ve learned through the company payed off in other ways. It improved my grades and my home life.”

Budhi Blair has been with JLB a little under a year. He was previously in the military, went to school at Penn State and worked sales in multiple industries. He considers himself a “Johnny of all hats” and has embraced JLB’s practice of getting young people involved in the industry.

“I was 17 years old when I entered the military, and they were putting me in charge of billions of dollars’ worth of equipment,” he says. “I know what young people are capable of, so when I got here, I said, ‘Let’s see what these guys can do.’ … We have young men here working with our guys on billion dollar projects and knocking them out of the park.”

Blair notes that the interns and young employees are involved in the business communication side in addition to project details.

“When we get these young guys in here, I ask them, ‘What are your peers doing? Mowing lawns? Working fast food?’” says Blair. “Here, these guys are gaining great skills. They can put on a college resume, or on a job resume, that they’ve got five years of experience working in the field. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

JLB held an open house for the interns’ parents earlier this year when it moved to a new location, as Bortner says “educating the parents” is just as important as working with the students.

“We wanted to show them photographs of what we we’re working on, so they understood that when their children come here, they’re not just job shadowing or learning about an industry—they’re a part of the industry, they’re a part of that 30- to 40-story building,” he says.

Bortner adds, “A lot of common sense things are taught here, lessons of life they don’t even realize they’re learning. We have to be correct. I keep telling them, in this industry, 85 percent right doesn’t cut it.”

Ron James, who works in sales and customer service in addition to outreach, says the intern interview process itself is very valuable to the students, who may have never had a job interview before. “Jeff talks them through the interview process,” he says. “We tell them, maybe you may not make it through, but this process is going to help you down the line for the next interview. … Or maybe they do the internship but realize they don’t want to do shop drawing for a career. But it is still valuable experience.”