While hiring co-op students requires a commitment on the part of the employer, like hiring any employee, there is an initial learning curve. However, the advantages far outweigh any inconveniences, according to Sister Sally Duffy, SC, president and executive director of SC Ministry Foundation.
“Co-ops are such a mutually beneficial program and a wonderful way to build professional relationships,” she says. “So often, we seek ways to give back to society and participating in a co-op program is a way to do that, right in your own workplace.”
Smart Business spoke with Sister Duffy about the ways in which employers benefit from hiring co-ops and how a successful co-op program can be structured.
How do employers benefit from hiring co-op students?
While students gain important professional experience, employers also benefit greatly from participating in co-op programs. Co-op students bring to the workplace their own perspective and expertise, as well as their educational background. Perhaps most importantly, co-op students are generally very curious by nature and ask a lot of questions during their employment that forces employers to get out of the habit of their everyday thinking and see the workplace through a fresh set of eyes. If employers take the time to really listen, they can learn a lot from these students.
An added benefit we’ve seen is that many co-op students are proficient in technology, so they bring insights into different processes and techniques that can help employers be more efficient and effective. We’ve also found our co-op program to be a great recruiting tool by creating an internal pool for hiring good, well-trained employees when an opening arises.
What factors should an employer consider when hiring a co-op student?
In many ways, hiring a co-op student is just like hiring any other type of employee.
First and foremost, it’s essential that there be a mission compatibility between the student and the organization, and the student should be committed to that mission or purpose. Other factors to consider include how well the student will fit into the organization’s culture and the student’s level of flexibility to try a lot of new things during the co-op experience.
What is the most rewarding part of employing co-op students?
It is wonderful and very rewarding to watch not only the personal and professional growth of the co-op student, but also the growth of your staff and the rest of the organization as a result of the program and the students you employ. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my staff mentor the co-op students, which really enhances the experience for everyone.
Employers can also benefit from listening to co-op students’ questions and ideas. We have found that co-op students really help us to challenge ourselves, our thinking, and the ways in which we do things just by asking insightful questions and offering fresh, new ideas.
How should employers structure co-op programs to achieve the best results?
Employers first need to consider the co-op student’s major when determining appropriate tasks. But it’s also important to match a student’s passion with his or her work by finding out where his or her interests lie and what he or she would like to accomplish during the co-op experience. It is especially important to create goals to ensure mutual understanding of expectations. Employers should seek to match the student’s expectations and make sure there’s a good fit and compatibility.
There are many ways to structure a co-op program. We typically hire one co-op student per year who works with us for an entire year, giving the student plenty of time to really learn and understand our organization. I recommend that employers try to use a consistent manager or supervisor for the student, providing regular performance evaluations and ongoing feedback and communication. We have found it especially instructive to have the co-op student evaluate our organization’s performance and his or her own experience. This information then helps us improve our program for the next student.
But I truly believe that the employers who benefit the most are the ones who can turn the co-op experience from a raw experience to a reflective one by really getting to know their co-op students, spending time with them, and listening to them.
SISTER SALLY DUFFY, SC, is the president and executive director of SC Ministry Foundation, a public grantmaking organization. Reach her at (513) 347-1136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.