Internship program draws next generation of workers

By |  February 17, 2017

About 15 years ago, Oldcastle developed an initiative for its quarries to find solutions to the aging workforce issue. The company also encouraged its quarries’ human resources departments to consider developing internship programs as a possible solution.

Tilcon New York, whose parent company is Oldcastle, recognized the need to attract a younger workforce.

“Our industry struggles to attract talent as we are not the most glamorous industry,” says Anne Poltorak, human resources manager at Tilcon New York. “It’s a real issue we have to face. We don’t want to be in a crisis mode in a few years because of this. We looked at the issue and said, ‘How can we make this work? How can we get people to stay?’”

Poltorak took Oldcastle’s advice and formed an internship program for Tilcon New York. She looked at nearby universities with mining or engineering programs to scout students interested in an internship opportunity.

The company’s internship started with just two students in the summer of 2001. The program gradually grew each year, attracting more students. Today, anywhere from 15 to 20 students intern with Tilcon New York each summer in various departments.

Developing the program

Photo courtesy of Tilcon New York Inc.

Tilcon New York’s internship program starts with one week of training. Interns are assigned a manager once the training ends. Photos courtesy of Tilcon New York Inc.

When planning Tilcon’s internship program, Poltorak received support from the president at Tilcon New York, the president of Oldcastle, as well as its management team. She also received support from everyone at the quarry.

After gaining everyone’s support, Poltorak moved forward with her plans. She reached out to mining and engineering schools on the East Coast to get the company’s first interns. She sent fliers to West Virginia University and Virginia Tech. Two students worked at Tilcon New York for the first year of the program, and five by the second.

Most students have learned about the program from their respective universities. Some, however, discovered the program by chance, including Andrew Pylypyshyn.

“I just walked in and asked if they were looking for interns for the summer since it was right by my house,” Pylypyshyn says. “I told them I was a mining engineering student from Virginia Tech, and they hired me to work there in the summer of 2008.”

Pylypyshyn wasn’t sure what area of mining he wanted to pursue when he started the internship. But his experience in Tilcon New York’s program convinced him to commit to aggregate mining.

“They let me do everything the hourly workers do,” he says. “I spent time learning to run equipment, run the mills and plants, loading in the pit and spent time with blasters, drillers and quality controls. I got my hands dirty in every aspect of what the operation requires for it to run. They invested in teaching me skills.”

Tilcon New York offered Pylypyshyn a job as third-shift supervisor at its Mount Hope Quarry in Wharton, New Jersey, when he graduated in 2009. Today, he serves as plant manager at Tilcon’s West Nyack Quarry in West Nyack, New York.

Today, the internship program includes at least one week of training for all interns, Poltorak says. The program starts with one week of training with the human resources department. Mine Safety & Health Administration training is included along with CPR and first aid. Students who will be working with equipment might also receive task training on the piece of equipment they will operate, Poltorak adds.

Once training ends, all interns report to their manager who will mentor the student for the duration of the program. In addition to pairing students with full-time employees, Poltorak makes sure someone from human resources checks in with interns regularly to gauge how their experience is going. She asks students to complete a weekly summary of how the program is going, as well.

A growing program

Photo courtesy of Tilcon New York Inc.

For the past three years, Tilcon New York has recruited students from various backgrounds to its internship program, including students with backgrounds such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, geology and business.

Although Tilcon’s internship program started as something to primarily recruit new plant managers and engineers, it’s grown to include students from a variety of fields.

For the past three years, Tilcon has recruited students from a variety of backgrounds, including civil engineering, mine engineering, mechanical engineering, construction engineering, accounting, finance, human resources, geology and business. The company also looks to nearby community colleges and vocational schools to recruit welding and heavy equipment mechanics.

“Our hourly workforce is retiring,” Poltorak says. “We looked at the age range we have in our quarries and recognized that in the next five years, we have a large group of employees on the technical side who will retire.”

In recent years, the internship program has invited more business-related students to the program. Shyam Sharma, a human resources student at Caldwell University, learned about Tilcon’s internship program when Poltorak spoke at a business advisory council event at his university in February 2015. Poltorak discussed the role Tilcon New York plays in the community.

“I connected with her afterward and pursued an opportunity to intern with her in the HR department,” Sharma says.

After a three-week application process, Poltorak asked Sharma to join the company’s internship program in the summer of 2015 to assist the human resources department. When summer ended, Poltorak asked Sharma to continue on as a part-time employee because his school was so close to Tilcon’s New Jersey locations. Sharma adds that he hopes to continue working in the aggregate industry after graduation.

In recent years, Tilcon New York’s internship program has required all students on site to collaborate on a project that benefits the quarry. In the summer of 2016, Poltorak asked its interns at its New York quarry to create a presentation for elementary and middle school students about the company and the aggregate industry, and she asked its interns at its New Jersey quarry to develop a website to reach out to high school and technical school students.

“New York students created a Star Wars-themed video to share with students since it’s a popular genre now,” Sharma says. “And in Jersey, we worked to make a website for high school students. We made a website that shows the careers offered here, along with some of the experiences people have when working here.”

Once a project is completed, Poltorak has students share their presentations with Tilcon New York and Oldcastle executives at a breakfast.

“This is a big deal,” she says. “They get up and share their presentation, which gives them exposure to talking to a large group.”

Pylypyshyn adds that he sees this program as something that can help the industry prepare its workforce for the future.

“We need younger, bright people to get into this industry,” he says. “The industry’s not going away so job security is sound. And that should be the main attraction of this type of program for a student coming out of a college or trade school.”

View from a mining professor

Photo courtesy of Tilcon New York Inc.

Andrew Pylypyshyn interned at Tilcon New York while he was in college. Today, he serves as plant manager at Tilcon New York’s West Nyack Quarry. Pictured above are a loader and haul truck at the West Nyack Quarry.

Steven Schafrik, a research associate professor at Virginia Tech University’s Center for Coal & Energy Research, offers some additional insights on the value of internship programs at aggregate mining operations.

According to Schafrik, Virginia Tech’s mining program has 150 students. Of those students, he says about 40 percent are entering the aggregate mining industry.

“That’s a larger percentage than any other mining industry,” he says. “It’s a big emphasis in our program now.”

While internships are not required of students to graduate, he strongly encourages students to do at least one before graduating. About 80 percent of his students typically participate in at least one internship program.

“It’s so important for them,” he says. “It makes their classes more meaningful and it helps them discover what aspect of mining they enjoy. It also pays them better than going home to be a lifeguard for summer. Even if they’re just helping an operation with surveying, it helps them understand more about the industry.”

3 tips to develop your own internship program

Here are some suggestions from Tilcon New York Inc. representatives on establishing your own internship program:
1. Get support from your team. Make sure all employees are on board to offer an internship program, not just the executives. A supportive team helps to develop the interns who work for the operation.

2. Have direct involvement with students. Make sure students work with a manager who is willing to engage with them. According to Anne Poltorak, human resources manager at Tilcon New York, it could be good for the human resources manager to also connect with interns on a daily or weekly basis.

3. Consider offering a stipend. Interns are paid at Tilcon, and Poltorak offers students a stipend coming from out of state in order to help them with living expenses.

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About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at or 216-363-7930.

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