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‘It’s a learning experience’: Riley intern gains on-the-job training by building Waukesha office expansion

By: Ethan Duran//December 6, 2022//

‘It’s a learning experience’: Riley intern gains on-the-job training by building Waukesha office expansion

By: Ethan Duran//December 6, 2022//

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David Trainor is a Marquette student and project manager for Riley Construction’s Waukesha office expansion. (Staff photo by Ethan Duran)

David Trainor, an intern at Riley Construction, is only half a year away from graduation at Marquette University and is already the project manager for an office expansion project in Waukesha.

Trainor manages the team, works with subcontractors, gathers materials and balances the budget for a 2,600-square-foot expansion that includes five offices and a conference room for Riley Construction. Company president Ben Kossow gave the opportunity to Trainor, who has worked through a co-op program since January 2021, to give him more experience while softening the risk of costly mistakes.

Kossow and Trainor work side by side as project manager and owner and each mistake is a coaching opportunity, the company president said.

“I want to coach young interns in a safe environment,” Kossow said. “I have him explain his plans and I can ask him questions. My world doesn’t end if his project shifts a day.”

Though the expansion is small compared to other projects, Trainor is introspective and ambitious about his work. He said the project will wrap up before Christmas, but he wanted it done earlier.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said on the job site recently while crews laid down floor tiles, adding he looked back and found ways to make the project timelier and more efficient. “I’ll be proud in a couple weeks when it’s finished. I would do a lot of things differently. It’s a learning experience.”

On top of facing rigorous questions and hearing suggestions from other staff, the intern-made-project-manager constantly changes his schedule and works to solve problems. A subcontractor gave Trainor his timeline and he built his schedule around their work – until they told him materials would be delayed just three days before the deadline.

Instead of passing it off, Trainor called the subcontractor and worked through the hiccup.

“It’s important to have good relationships with subcontractors,” he said.

“He’s doing great. I love the fact he’s digging in, learning and running it like a real project,” Kossow said. “There are other project managers in the space with questions and he’s handled them great. He doesn’t let lots of questions bother him.”

Kossow, who joined Riley in 2000, said he wanted to extend the opportunity to more young people in the future, reflecting on his own learning experience with founder Dave Riley.

“Internships are huge,” for people entering the industry, Kossow said. “It would be hard for me to hire a new graduate with no prior experience in construction.”

The pipeline for high school and college students into the construction trades was the only way to keep labor up to match the demand, Trainor, who started in the construction industry when he was 16, said. “There’s a stigma there against physical labor. I wish there wasn’t. Blue collar work is the backbone of this country.”

Trainor said completing projects was the most satisfying thing in the world.

“I like being able to look at something and say, ‘I did that,’ especially if people are using it,” he said. “You know you’re helping some way if it’s infrastructure.”

After he earns his civil engineering degree in May, Trainor said he wants to keep working in construction and tackle larger projects.

To build a skilled workforce in construction trades, Kossow emphasized getting interns and young people involved in large projects.

“I think millennials are the coolest working class out there,” he said. “Companies will have to fit themselves in the vision of how they think, then they will be the hardest and smartest workers.”

Of all the people in his friend group, Trainor has been the only engineering student to get this type of opportunity. He recommended the experience and encouraged other students to dive in.

“Every project management student should do it,” Trainor said.


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