Co-op Students Program, a win-win for businesses, students and the government.
Co-op Students Program, a win-win for businesses, students and the government.
Around 20 years ago we needed to hire a student intern for a 4-month term. I interviewed 7/8 student candidates and selected one. During the interview process, I noticed that the students were very comfortable and prepared for the interviews. Their resumes looked very well prepared, contained the right information all geared towards the position they had applied for. They were all dressed formally, conducted themselves professionally and tried to answer all questions at great length. They all left a positive impression on the interviewer (me).
Eventually one student got selected and I got the opportunity to manage her. What I realized was that the intern student was professionally very well groomed for office manners and conduct, appeared to be very well trained, was very knowledgeable and confident and productive from day 1. While at work the student tried to get exposed to many areas of work and networked with lots of people. After completing the internship for 4v months, the students went back to school for another term before graduating.
After graduation the student approached me looking for full time position. Since there was an opportunity available and the student had left a very positive work impression on all she had worked with, an offer was made, and the student became a full-time employee at our corporation.
One slower evening I started comparing my own journey from university to full time employment to finally becoming a productive employee making positive contributions to my employer with the coop student we had hired. Sadly, I did not fare well in this comparison.
With a Bachelors in Engineering and Masters in Business Administration, both from well reputed Pakistani universities, I was neither that prepared nor ready to face the real life challenges of a competitive work environment. From preparing my resume to preparing for the job interview to readiness for the actual job I was NOT prepared at all and hence the transition from school to work was a tough one.
One day I took the student for a coffee and inquired what was bothering me, in a positive way, to know how she became so well prepared, comfortable and confident for this transition, and what I found out was amazing:
- The university offer degree programs with Co-op option
- Each semester/term at school is of 4 months duration
- After each two terms (8 months) of studies, students need to do a Co-op work term
- During this Co-op work term student is required to work full time for an employer
- For the Co-op work term students go thru the regular job search process
- University approaches employers to hire their students for Co-op work terms
- University guides the students preparing for resumes and interviews
- Students apply for positions with various employers
- Employers interview students and select best candidates
- Employers make offer to selected candidates
- Students start working full time for work terms
- Working full time during work term is part of their studies
- During work terms students are encouraged to network with others
- At the end of each work term student is required to write a term report covering everything they learned/achieved during this time
- At the end of each work terms employers do a performance evaluation of students
- Students are graded based on their work term report and feedback from employers
- During early work terms employers assign simpler assignments to students
- With every subsequent work term, students are assigned more and more responsibilities by employers
- Students are encouraged to work at different organizations or in different role on each work term
- Students are encouraged to apply their learnings at school at work
So, by the time as they graduate, and ready to work full time, the students have already gone thru the cycles of preparing resumes, giving interviews, working in various roles and with various organizations for 4 work terms under this guided program, and:
- Know how to prepare effective and targeted resumes
- Know how to prepare, present and conduct a job interview
- Have a large network of professionals in the industry
- Have a clear understanding of commonalities and differences at school and workplace
- Have a good exposure of various organizations and their work style
- Have practical knowledge of various job roles and their responsibilities
- Have hands on experience of actually doing the jobs in an industry
- And of course, earn something that helps them paying their tuition at school
So, this transition from school to workplace is gradual, guided and smooth. Employers already know which students can and cannot be good candidates for job openings and are willing to hire students who they already know, did good during their work terms and who already know their business, requirements and environment. There are no surprises from either side. It’s a win-win situation both for the students and for the employers.
In addition to guiding and coaching students for resume and interview preps, inviting employers to hire students and making arrangements for the interviews, the universities also maintain a regular contact with key personnel in the industry and business community by holding periodic seminars on various current relevant topics and invite key industry leaders to share their views. Students are encouraged to organize and attend these seminars. These seminars serve several purposes, such as:
- Helping the university faculty establishing and maintaining contacts with key industry leaders
- Having constructive and healthy deliberations on key industry topics between Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and academia
- Helping the faculty learning what skills are in demand or may be needed in future by the industry/business enabling them adjusting courses accordingly
- Acknowledging industry leaders’ positive contributions to their relevant industry and to the university
- Providing students training to organize and setup business events
- Providing students getting firsthand perspective on current important matters and issues in the business and industrial environments
- Providing students networking opportunities with their prospect future employers
- Build bridges between business/industry and schools
Industry/business SMEs are also encouraged to reach out to the universities to find solutions to their long term or short-term business challenges. Depending on the nature and complexity, these challenges are then assigned to students at various levels as research projects, projects assignments or final year thesis assignments. Again, it’s a win-win situation both for the industry and students. Business get answers or potential solutions to their worries and students get firsthand exposure of actual business challenges and on structured and objective process of finding practical solutions of the same.
In addition to the universities and businesses, the third pillar in this partnership is the government. An important factor of students Co-op program is the incentive government offers to businesses encouraging them hiring Co-op students. Co-op students’ renumeration is tax exempted. So, hiring Co-op students by businesses is not just due to golden heart or sense of responsibility, it makes business sense too. The incentives offered by the government to businesses also do not make a dent to the exchequer as the lost tax revenue now comes from the students instead.
Though it is important to mention that not all universities offer such well organized and well-planned students Co-op programs but those that do, are more popular and their students are generally better prepared, better placed and considered first for various job opportunities.
It does not take any big capital to start something like above, just a vision, planning, organizing and hard work and I am positive that with a little bit of sincerity one can find all these qualities in abundance in Pakistan. My question to the heads of various government and private universities in Pakistan.
“What is stopping them in taking the first step and become market leader in this area of university industry partnership?”
I have been hiring students for our department for almost 18 years now and have seen firsthand how effective, valuable, successful and smooth this Co-op student program is. We also ended up hiring some of our past coop students later, on full time basis.
Through these lines, I strongly appeal to:
- Our government to pass legislation offering tax incentives to businesses for hiring Co-op students
- Our universities to establish regular Co-op programs
- Our businesses to actively participate in such programs
- Our students to demand their universities to start such programs
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February 15, 2020