If you are an engineering student, your first thought for an internship might not be KFC. But Justin Tallio, a product development engineer on the food innovation team for the KFC US business, was one of those interns just five years ago. He now works full-time and supports the engineering internship program for KFC.
According to Tallio, the co-op, or internship program for KFC, has been around since the 1980s. The program currently selects two interns each semester. The engineering students are mainly from University of Louisville Speed Scientific school, but the program has had students from Miami of Ohio, Michigan State, Purdue and the University of Kentucky.
Proof of the program’s success as a talent pool for KFC? “Of our six full-time engineers, four of those started as an engineering intern,” said Tallio. “Our most senior person who started out as an intern is now our vice-president of global engineering.”
Interns are selected from career fairs, online job postings and direct application to the KFC program. “When I was there [a college career fair], I had no idea what an engineer at a fried chicken company would do,” said Tallio. “We have built up our reputation from word of mouth. A lot of people thought my job was cool when I told them about my experience at KFC,” he said. So, fair question: what exactly does an engineer do at KFC?
“Our marketing team, in conjunction with our food developers, comes up with new menu products and we all work together to figure out how to support the new product rollouts,” said Tallio. For example, the packaging that KFC’s chicken tenders comes in was influenced by an engineering intern. The chicken tender baskets now have biscuit holders, a modification originally suggested by an intern that was made standard because it provides a better experience for consumers.
“Everything in the kitchen that is not food or part of the building is engineering,” said Tallio. “There is an equipment team that handles fryers, toasters, ovens and other equipment; a packaging team that manages quality control of buckets, boxes, cups and any consumer packaging, and small wares, which includes tongs, ladles, pans, and things you can wash in the sink,” explained Tallio.
Small but mighty team
The six-person engineering team, plus two interns, manages everything back of restaurant for more than 4,100 restaurants across KFC US. Since KFC is a global company, engineering interns have the potential to carve out a career path that may include working internationally as well.
While the word intern may conjure images of making copies and getting coffee, the engineering internship experience at KFC offers a more robust career-learning experience. “It’s not just another warm body in the building,” said Tallio. The work our interns do is pretty remarkable. They are making a real impact to the brand.”
The opportunity to have a real hands-on experience has proved appealing for 20-year old intern Abigail Horsley, a chemical engineering student at University of Louisville. Horsley said at first she was one of those confused students who didn’t understand what engineers would do in food service, but then she took a tour of the brand’s Louisville-based corporate headquarters and “fell completely in love.”
This company is amazing,” said Horsley. “My favorite part of the internship has been just the amount of trust and respect they have for us, their willingness to give us a lot of responsibility. I am super grateful for the projects I have done for them that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else.”
Tallio said one of the major goals of the program is to help interns learn what they want to do and help them build their skills, but KFC benefits from the fresh eyes of their interns, too. “They’re not too set in the way KFC works so they bring an outsider’s perspective on how people see the brand, what the customer experiences from KFC,” he said.
Connor Duffy, 21, a mechanical engineering intern also from UofL, said the internship has offered a great experience learning how to interact at a Fortune 500 company. “That is something I’ll use for the rest of my career. It’s a great springboard whether here or YUM or any other company,” he said.
Duffy also noted that the small tight-knit engineering team has been an enjoyable aspect of his internship. “We are very close, and eat lunch together every day and joke around. We keep each other on our toes, and it’s been great just learning from them and what wisdom they have.”
Horsley agrees. “You grow to love all the people you work with, and that’s really unique. That’s not something a lot of people get in an internship.”
For information about careers at KFC, visit jobs.kfc.com.