National Co-op Week 2017 – An Open Letter

National Co-op Week 2017
An Open Letter to Small and Medium Sized Business on why co-op works.

22 March, 2017

 March 20 – 25, 2017 is National Co-op Week in Canada – and as a business who not only supplies co-op programs with software services but also one who actively employs and engages in the co-op process, we wanted to share our ideas on why these programs can be advantageous for small and medium sized employers (SME). We’re a small technology company located in Hamilton, and we’ve been hiring co-op students for years. Over 80% of our co-op students were offered and accepted a full-time position with our organization after they graduated. We’re proof that SME’s can leverage enormous benefits by participating in co-op programs.

In today’s competitive climate, finding the right talent is not a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s imperative to the long-term success of our business. Co-op programs have become a major factor in how we build and maintain our talent pipeline. We believe that more SMEs should be participating in these programs.

When we talk about co-op students, the image of an earnest individual scurrying about the office doing odd jobs or working away on some non-essential project that may never see the light of day comes to mind. But that’s far from the case.

Today’s co-op students bring with them a wealth of knowledge, ideas, and – more importantly, genuine desire to learn and contribute in a meaningful way. In this ultra-competitive work environment, where good talent is in short supply, co-op programs are an efficient and accurate way of pulling in capable recruits for your company – indeed, ones who may give your business a real edge over the competition. In a world characterized by rapidly shifting technology and theories, co-op students are a highly technical and freshly educated demographic that can help keep you relevant.

Once implemented, a co-op process in your organization can turn out to be a funnel for subsequent prospective talent. Moreover, a cyclical pattern of effective hiring – with minimal investment and maximum returns— is established. Perhaps the most persuasive reason to nurture a co-op student at your firm is the injection of fresh ideas and fresh eyes. Couple these new ideas, along with a lack of biases or fear of ‘rocking the boat’, co-op students can often challenge the process or the status quo – assuming you give them the space to do so. This can be a catalyst for product or process breakthroughs: something harder to achieve with new hires, who are worried about disrupting existing practices.

There are additional benefits to SME’s as well: Short-term commitments, options to extend or hire full-time, potential tax-breaks or even government grants. Unlike a typical hiring cycle, you don’t require the full resources or expenses associated with permanent staff.

Of course, the success of any hire depends on the presence of structured support, mentorship and a supervisory program for co-op students. You’ll need to create a nurturing environment to fully unleash the potential of these energetic and talented fast-learners.

The biggest question we get asked by other businesses who are considering hiring a co-op student for the first time is ‘what do I need to do to make this work?’ The process does not produce results unless you put something in. As an organization, you have a short window with someone who is eager to contribute and learn from you. In order to capitalize on this, you must have a plan in place to support the person, and the process itself. As employers, we also have a responsibility to ensure our students are safe, engaged and gaining real work experience – planning properly for their arrival is a vital part of that process. Any good co-op employment program requires some structure and we stress that anytime we’re talking to other businesses.

In our office, we empower our co-op students to work on real projects that allow us to quickly ascertain that individual’s aptitude – something we would not have been able to do when deciding on a new hire. We get a clear idea of how they fit into our corporate culture and our students get to return to school with a rich, hands-on experience in a field they want to graduate into.

In our organization, we found the most labour-intense part of our co-op hiring was creating the plan and process to onboard that worked for equally well for both us as the employer and for our co-op students. But now that this process is in place it’s turn-key: minimal overhead and a great deal of benefits. Just recently we hired our summer co-op students on full-time and are hoping to make another offer to our next batch of students shortly.



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