House painting entrepreneur

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer April 13, 2011 03:38 pm

EASTERN OREGON UNIVERSITY student Rebecca Johnson recently was tapped for an internship with College Works Painting. This summer, she’ll work as the         company’s La Grande branch manager, hiring crew, doing estimates and overseeing work. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
EASTERN OREGON UNIVERSITY student Rebecca Johnson recently was tapped for an internship with College Works Painting. This summer, she’ll work as the company’s La Grande branch manager, hiring crew, doing estimates and overseeing work. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

Eastern student learns business skills, earns money for school through College Works Painting internship

Going to college never has been a cheap proposition. Grant funding and help from parents fall short, and most students have to work a job, sometimes two, to pay tuition, buy books and otherwise make ends meet.

The best kind of job is the one that melds with the educational experience, teaches solid life skills right along with the topics learned in the classroom.

 Rebecca Johnson, a born-and-raised La Grande woman just embarking on her higher education, thinks she’s found just the ticket.

Recently the Eastern Oregon University freshman was tapped for an internship with College Works Painting, the Irvine, Calif.-based program that teaches students about entrepreneurship through house painting. This summer, she is the

La Grande branch manager.

“When I first looked into it, I didn’t know exactly what it was. It turned out to be an internship on running a business. It will be a very valuable experience for me,” Johnson said.

Johnson, 26, is majoring in pre-engineering and minoring in art. When she finishes her pre-engineering courses, she likely will transfer to another university.

But for now, she’s at the helm of the local College Works Painting branch. She’s responsible for finding people who want their houses painted, and then she’s responsible for getting crews to the job.

And the responsibilities don’t end there. When the painting’s done, it will have to pass Johnson’s own rigid quality standards.

“I focus on reliability and quality with my workers, and I will not accept my client to be anything less than 100 percent satisfied in all areas of the job,” she said.

Founded in 1993, the for-profit College Works Painting program operates in 19 states and hires more than 2,000 college students every year. It boasts of being one of the nation’s largest exterior home painting contractors.

The program’s promotional materials say that branch managers are selected on the basis of past work experience, academic performance, involvement in high school and college activities, and their overall level of maturity.

Program representatives also say it isn’t an easy program to get into. They won’t take just anybody. Johnson said there’s a lot of truth to that.

“They have a fairly intense selection process. I had to go through five interviews,” she said.

After those interviews came some intensive training. Over spring break, Johnson attended a two-day seminar in Eugene, learning not only the nuts and bolts of house painting, but also the ins and outs of running a business.

Trainers stressed that branch managers are business leaders, tasked with making the key decisions and held accountable for the final product.

Finding and hiring good, capable workers is a part of the job. Johnson said she expects to put four to eight local people to work this summer, and is recruiting now.

“I’d prefer they were college students, but they don’t necessarily have to be. It all depends on who applies,” she said.

Since completing her training, Johnson has been out beating the bushes for business. She’s worked up estimates for a number of prospective customers, and has actually lined up four jobs.

After summer ends, she may continue her career with College Works. She said there are opportunities for advancement.

“They do renew internships and there are chances to move up to district manager,” she said.

For more information about College Works Painting, or for an estimate, call Johnson at 541-805-0079.