Employment strategies Featured

11:36am EDT January 31, 2006
Hiring college co-op students can be a rewarding experience that fits nicely into a business’s hiring strategy. In addition to receiving prescreened applicants who have completed coursework specific to their employment, many businesses benefit by hiring well-trained co-op students upon graduation.

When considering hiring a co-op student, it’s important that businesses not only make sure they have appropriate work available for the number of hours the student will be employed, but also the necessary supervisory and administrative oversight to ensure a positive experience, says Maggie Davis, director of the Career & Experiential Education Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

“When properly implemented, co-ops can be a win-win for both the student and the employer,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Davis about the benefits of hiring co-op students from a college as well as tips to ensure businesses and students both gain something from the experience.

How do employers benefit from hiring co-op students from a college?
Many businesses use student co-ops as an important tool in their recruitment and hiring strategy, as a way to fill full- or part-time employment needs. Businesses that choose to make an employment offer to the co-op student upon graduation find these students are able to jump right into their jobs after completing a co-op because they know what is expected of them. Co-ops are particularly helpful to a business that is looking to fill jobs in difficult-to-find areas such as accounting and nursing.

Of course, many businesses also appreciate that co-ops are a less-expensive employment alternative as student wages are typically lower, and there’s usually no expectation or need to provide students with benefits.

Last, businesses who hire co-op students often find that students bring new skills and techniques, such as knowledge of new software programs, that the employer isn’t familiar with.

What support does an employer get from the college?
When considering a cooperative education program, employers should look for schools that offer screening to meet that employer’s specifications and needs. This usually means a minimum grade point average and completion of specific coursework relevant to the employer’s requirements.

Most cooperative education programs also provide employers with communication and human resources assistance to help communicate things like pay, benefits and work hours, as well as tools for evaluating the student’s performance.

How should an employer prepare for their co-op student?
Preparation really is the key to a successful co-op experience. Employers need to ask themselves a few questions before hiring a co-op student, such as how many hours per week will the student will work? What is your budget? Who will supervise the student’s work?

It’s very important to give some thought to who will be responsible for supervising the student and what type of work the student will be doing. Co-ops are meant to be a learning experience for the students, so employers should be sure the work involves things related to the student’s chosen field — not just making copies. The best co-op programs provide for progressive learning over the course of the student’s employment.

Putting a management system in place to work with the student, providing regular constructive feedback and a meaningful evaluation will go a long way in ensuring a successful co-op experience for both the student and the employer.

How can employers maximize their participation in the co-op program?
In general, it’s important to keep in mind that employers are actually serving as an off-campus teacher. Of course, this is an employment decision and employers can expect their co-op students to perform necessary work tasks like any other employee, but anyone interested in hiring a co-op student should remember that this is a learning opportunity as well as an employment opportunity.

I highly recommend that employers work closely with the school that’s providing the co-op student. In many cases, employers can help shape the school curriculum to ensure what’s being taught in the classroom accurately reflects what a student will encounter in the workplace. Often, employers have the opportunity to help influence the curriculum, which hopefully results in better-prepared employees.

Maggie Davis is director of the Career & Experiential Education Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph. The Mount has had cooperative education as part of the bachelor’s degree programs for 22 years, and was recognized by the Ohio Cooperative Education Association for program excellence in 2004. Reach Davis at (513) 244-4824 or maggie_davis@mail.msj.edu.