Skip to main content

On-Site vs In-Office Experience – Word to the Interns

As you exit or take a break from your learning institutions and transit to the industry, you carry a lot of fantasies in your head about the good and comforting expectations that your tutors lied to you about. The construction industry in this country is not thoroughly regulated. Doctors have very good advocates that make their line of work look civilized and even indoors—what you call white collar. Your first test on the field is your capacity to bear what happens on the ground compared to what you have been writing in your books.

For the intern, who is either an Architect(Arch.), Quantity Surveyor(QS) or Structural Engineer(Eng.), the situation is not so tough as you will apply about 72% of your theory on site. The incoming project managers have a tough ride as you only apply 28%. As the engineer or Qs get on paper to do his calculations, you will sit on a corner and begin shaking your head in all directions, scanning for solutions on how to contain an emerging risk on site.


I recommend that you begin your journey as a site guy rather than an office guy. A lot of events happen on site that you will never get to experience while sitting in the office enjoying the free wi-fi and 10 a.m. tea. First, you will be able to expand your network through other professionals that you interact with through site meetings. Second, you will have high chances of landing a direct client, as they prefer to see the quality of your work rather than your academic portfolio. Third, you will be able to appreciate the role of builders, as you will feel a sense of pride as they transfer your work to the ground.

For architects, you will appreciate how the elements of design are practically implemented. For example, space, function, mood, and perception. For engineers, you will need to check how the design mix ratio is practically achieved as well as the reinforcement patterns in your drawings. For quantity surveyors, you will be able to do re-measurements for valuation purposes and breakdown your bill of quantities into a schedule of materials, which is the only document that suppliers understand.


[widget id=”custom_html-68″]


If you continue forcing your way to offices to only take care of paper work, then you are in the wrong industry. Leave that to accountants and politicians. From my experience, the office guy who rarely associates himself with the construction bit is the main cause of conflicts, starting from project inception to handover. He creates a moody environment between the consultant and the builder without appreciating the importance of “alternative measures” on site, especially where the situation is not so critical.

For example, if you, as the engineer, sit in the office designing and checking the suitability of your structural analysis just using software and fail to come on site, this is what happens; assuming you indicated bar x for a column and you are briefed that such a bar is currently out of stock in the market, what will you do? Because you want to be bossy with no tolerance to brainstorm with the site guy, you end up ordering for work to be halted until bar X is restored. The client will term you incompetent because you lack a versatile mind, thereby causing an unnecessary delay to the project. If you were the professional who was a site guy, you would let the builder continue with another bar, but in such a way that the purpose that was to be served by bar X is still maintained.


As I conclude, there is a common Chinese proverb that says, “What you hear, you forget; what you see, you remember; what you do, you understand.“ All are lessons right there. When you also go to the site, don`t just be there to whirl your eyes around. Take that dumpy level and proceed with setting out, obviously with some guidance. If you don`t understand, ask the builder, and you will be a complete construction prodigy.