From Co-Op to Project Manager: Zack's Story
Updated: Feb 15
Zachary Ferchak completed two co-op semesters with F&T prior to accepting a full-time position after graduating from Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2022.
During his career he’s been on both sides of the co-op experience, as a student and a now as a project manager. We caught up with Zack to discuss his experience transitioning from a co-op to a full-time career.
How did you get into this field?
I always knew I wanted to continue my education in engineering, but I also had an interest in project management. I graduated from the Wentworth Institute of Technology this past summer with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Manufacturing. As I began applying for my co-ops for the spring semester in 2021, I was still unsure of what field I wanted to go into. After doing a lot of research, I discovered MEP engineering. I applied and interviewed with F&T, and I felt like getting exposure at an MEP company in a project manager role gave me an insight into both worlds.
What did you like most about co-op?
Being the first Project Management (PM) co-op at F&T, I thought they did a great job developing the role. I was able to help give my perspective back to F&T to help set them up for having PM co-ops in the future. The team was very willing to teach how to do PM work even though my education was in engineering. Everyone at the office encouraged me to ask questions to make this a great learning experience for me.
What are traits of a successful co-op?
After finishing your co-op, I think it’s important to do some self-reflecting. I am able say I learned a lot from my co-op. I worked with various new applications such as Deltek, Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC), and BlueBeam. I learned how to make budget-revenue plans, project charters, and participate in project kickoffs. It gave me a better understanding of what I wanted to do with my future. Co-op is meant to give the student experience in a real work setting and allow them to evaluate what they value in a workplace.
How did this help you transition into a full-time career?
Having two co-ops with F&T played a huge part in joining the team full-time after graduation. I had almost no knowledge of what a project manager does. The co-op program was able to give me the opportunity to learn from participating and observing. Luckily, I have a great mentor who pushes me in the right direction and encourages me to learn and ask questions. Now that I am full-time, I feel much more comfortable in my role as it gives me the confidence to take on new challenges.
What was the transition like from co-op to full time?
The transition from co-op to full-time went smoothly. After finishing my final two semesters of school, I returned feeling excited and energized. The team welcomed me back with open arms and made me feel like I belonged here. This gave me much more confidence in myself as a project manager. I am still learning a lot and look forward to my future with F&T.
What advice would you either give yourself when you were first starting out or give someone new starting out?
My advice to anyone just starting out as a co-op or in their first full-time job out of school would be to ask as my questions as you can. Your employer wants to see how encouraged you are to learn. Sometimes you can feel like everyone around you is too busy to deal with a bunch of questions, but everyone at F&T is very willing to help. Showing your enthusiasm is also a great way to integrate yourself into a tight-knit team. Attending the events the office hosts and paying attention to detail of the little things, like getting your work done in a timely matter. Lastly, I would try and get to know your coworkers. Attending group events or just having a casual chat with someone during lunch can go a long way.
What do you like most about working with co-ops and the co-op program at F&T?
I think now that I was able to experience being a co-op at F&T, I am now capable of mentoring some of the other co-ops if needed. The co-op program is a very good way of getting some experience and can help anyone find a job after graduation. When I was a co-op, all of us used to get lunch together and we would periodically check in with each other throughout the day. Although we worked in entirely different positions, it gives the co-ops a sense of comfort knowing others are also in the same position as you.
What traits make a successful person at F&T and in this industry?
There are three traits that stand out to me when thinking about success at F&T and in this industry. Firstly, you need to work hard. The harder you work and the more effort you put into the project, the better the result will be. Along with hard work comes organization. There are always many projects going on at once and in my case, I must manage. Checklists and calendars become your best friend when working in this industry. I wasn’t the best at time management, but I think with the experience of having a co-op, I was able to gain this skill and evolve myself into a well-organized person in not only the office, but my everyday life. Lastly, you must become personable. As a project manager, I must be able to get in contact with owners, architects, etc. and have fluid conversations about the progress of the project at hand. It is important to get on the same page with the others you are working with including the engineers in the office.
What’s your favorite part about working at F&T?
My favorite part about working at F&T is the comradery in the office. Everyone is very respectful and very approachable. The events F&T sets up for its employees are a lot of fun and a great way get to know some of your other coworkers. The company always seems to have such high morale which seems to be a result of the effort everyone puts into these events.