Short staffed? Lack time? Limited funds? Hir ....

By Gerry Nosal, Penn Hills Public Works Superintendent

Penn Hills is a large municipality covering 20 square miles and about 150 miles of municipal streets plus 50 miles of state roads and another 35 miles of county roads. To assist with public works tasks, the Penn Hills Department of Public Works (DPW) has been hiring interns for various projects for nearly 15 years. In the last four years the DPW hired nine interns, six of whom have been assigned to the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4). The other interns have been assigned to developing and maintaining a pavement management program, a sign inventory program, and a Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping program. The bulk of the interns’ work has been data collection. The interns would then enter the data into various computerized systems. The internship proved beneficial to both the intern and the municipality.

Generally, our interns work with Penn Hills DPW and Gateway Engineers personnel. This past year, the goal was to complete the mapping for the MS4 program which began several years ago. Data collection from the summer interns included a lot of field work locating storm inlets, manholes, pipe connectivity and outflows. The interns’ duties included 1) locating storm inlets and manholes to plot location information to a GIS map, 2) inspecting, recording and rating inlet and manhole condition, and 3) mapping out the connectivity between inlets and manholes and illustrating the direction of stormwater flow. The field work was challenging, climbing over steep embankments, walking in streams, and sometimes following deer paths through thick brush to set up their GPS equipment at the pipe outflow points. By the time this voluminous task was completed, the interns located 3,454 inlets, 477 storm manholes and 458 discharge points.
In addition to collecting information, much of which was necessary to meet regulatory requirements, Penn Hills saved money by hiring interns to perform these tasks. If we didn’t hire interns, we would have to hire someone from the engineering firm or possibly a part time summer worker at a higher rate to perform the same job. Interns work from 7:00 AM to 2:30 PM daily at a rate of $10 to $12 an hour, and most interns work from mid-May until mid-August between school terms. Compare that to what you would pay your engineering firm.
Our interns showed up for work motivated, excited and ready to take on the days’ work. They attended meetings with the DPW staff which gave them an understanding of how the DPW and the Engineering department work together, along with a bit on how government works. Our interns had the academic skills and were very tech savvy, easily catching on to our computer programs and the use of iPads and GIS instruments for field work.
The interns get real work experience in their field as well as an opportunity to build their professional network. On several occasions our interns found engineering jobs shortly after leaving their internships. The personal relationships they developed with the engineering firms on the job worked in their favor as members of the engineering firm got to personally know their skills, knowledge and work ethic. When the interns leave Penn Hills, they feel that they have had a taste of the real world. Meanwhile Penn Hills is accomplishing its goals thanks to the good work from our interns.

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