Skip to content
Log in
Employer spotlights, Handshake Early Talent Awards, Improving employer brand, Tools & tips

InnovationXchange: Kiewit builds a resilient workforce with Gen Z

“When done well, early talent is an investment that delivers impact today and secures future success. But how can organizations ‘do it well’?”

That’s the question Valerie Capers-Workman posed to Darron Rolle, Vice President of Human Resources at Kiewit, during Handshake’s InnovationXChange exclusive roundtable event.

1. Build a stable workforce pipeline with early talent programs

Given macroeconomic change and challenges, workforce management is top of mind for CEOs. In the construction and engineering industry, Darron explains, “We saw unprecedented wage increases and impacted supply chains. The number of engineers in school declined.”

To tackle such challenges, many recruiting teams must first achieve internal change and convince leadership of the value of early talent for workforce pipeline—but that wasn’t the case at Kiewit.

Darron started at Kiewit as an intern in 1992. Rick Lanoha, Kiewit’s CEO, is also a former intern. Darron said, “Our CEO, Rick, and myself are advocates. We all agree that early talent is the key to the future.” With former interns now leading the organization, Kiewit’s team understands that early talent programs are critical to workforce management. As an employee-owned construction and engineering firm, they put this value to practice by placing interns alongside experienced professionals to solve real business problems. From the beginning, students are part of a team that impacts and improves lives every day.

With senior leaders setting the vision and values for the organization, Kiewit is instilling early talent and a passion for their mission, culture, and work. They understand the vision and strategy and can bring in innovation. Soon that bottom rung on the ladder becomes the middle, and one day the top leadership positions and their investment into that talent pays for itself tenfold.

2. Leverage data to guide how you attract and retain talent

Along with being an Early Talent Awards winner, one of Darron’s team leaders, Doug McMann, was recognized on Handshake’s Honor Roll. Darron said, “In 2014, our CEO said he wanted to—and he set us on that path—become a premier data-driven organization.” And for Kiewit, that means investing in the tools that empower their teams. “Kiewit enjoys the support we get from Handshake. With it, we’ve made substantial changes to our people programs just by showing other leaders the data and providing insightful solutions to help them make decisions.”

Kiewit also uses data to propel innovation. Darron shared, "Doug is instrumental in helping us move the needle with getting better, diverse talent and keeping them here longer. For example, Doug's group in talent acquisition uses Handshake data to steer our teams toward which schools we go to and which we develop intimate relationships with.”

💡 With retention as a priority for Kiewit, Doug’s team introduced an onboarding survey that all employees take at 2 weeks, 3 months, and upon exiting. They use this to capture trends and improve—show how simple it can be to make a significant impact. Check out Doug McMann’s full Honor Roll interview here.

3. Turn internship programs into real business impact

It takes time to build and maintain a workforce. Even during economic strain, innovative industry leaders like Kiewit seek opportunities to adopt technology to hire top talent quicker and develop programs that drive immediate ROI. Darron shared that internship hiring will comprise about 10% of Kiewit’s total workforce hiring this year—a considerable investment where quality conversions pay dividends.

Kiewit has boosted intern conversions by moving away from end-of-year presentations to an evaluation based on a curriculum of tasks. Interns were unleashed into a collaborative learning environment, empowered to feel like they were already early career hires because they were doing the same work as field engineers. It also allowed field engineers to be mentors and grow their leadership skills. Upon completing the internships, students leave having mastered real-world skills in a real environment on a job site. Darron said, "It's changed the quality of the interns we get and their internships, so they are bringing real value for us and understanding their career.”

A key to Kiewit’s success is triangulating business goals, future vision, and what interns work on to be in alignment.

Hear it from the interns themselves:

“Kiewit treats their interns extremely well. They reimbursed me for relocation and provided corporate housing during my internship with two roommates who were also interns for the company. I got to work on a cool project and felt like I was a real part of the team.”

“I loved being able to apply my classroom knowledge in the field! I also liked connecting with people in my shoes not too long ago, and it was fun meeting and working with the other interns.”

💡 Did you know? Handshake’s Early Talent Awards annually recognize best-in-class employers. Learn more about the ETAs here.

4. Build a brand that resonates with your future workforce

Kiewit is one of North America’s largest and most respected construction and engineering organizations, with its roots dating back to 1884. With more and more Gen Z talent prioritizing stability, industries like construction are in a perfect spot to build their brands.

For Kiewit, Darron explained that “building their brand with Gen Z means teaching students that working with your hands is a noble profession. You don't necessarily have to go to college and get a degree. That’s where investments like Kiewit Luminarium, a youth and family education facility in our hometown of Omaha that exposes people to construction and engineering, play a role.”

“Investments like this speak to Gen Z, who want to know that their company cares about more than profit. We also focused on environmental and social governance in the last 3-5 years. We talk to our candidate about how we’re improving the mechanical systems of the buildings we own. And, you know, the early career hires loved it.”

Additionally, Kiewit is getting in the classroom to help partner universities shape their programs and give scholarships. These efforts help us achieve our commitment to hiring diverse candidates and replacing the aging workforce.

Take these strategies to help early talent launch impactful careers

Every industry faces challenges around workforce management, talent retention, optimizing resources, and building a strong brand that attracts talent. In this session, Darron shared 4 key tactics Kiewit, one of North America's largest and most respected construction and engineering organizations, uses to tackle these challenges by developing and empowering early talent to transform their careers, teams, and the business—from day one.

Does your senior leadership want to participate in a future executive InnovationXChange? Check out our upcoming events.

Recruit smarter with Handshake

Stay up-to-date on the latest early talent trends.