Co-ops provide ‘endless value’ for employers

Co-ops provide ‘endless value’ for employers

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce

Contributors:

Heather Laura Clarke

You might say Krista Martin specializes in creating win/win situations.

As a Senior Recruiter with Early Talent Acquisition for RBC, she connects students looking to jump-start their careers with the companies looking to bring in fresh, talented professionals.

“Many students are stuck in the ‘no experience, no work’ cycle where they aren’t able to get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job,” says Martin. “But work-integrated learning — which includes co-ops — allows students to apply their skills from the classroom to real-life work.”

Martin says these co-op programs also provide “endless value” to employers, giving them access to up-and-coming talent and bridging the gap between educational institutions and the workforce. RBC hired more than 35 students across Atlantic Canada in 2018, and Martin says their goal is to hire even more in 2019.

“Co-op students can help employers fill a variety of needs, from specific project support or long-term recruitment, to just shaking things up with a new point of view,” says Martin. “They also bring inquisitive minds, fresh new diverse ideas and great energy to the workplace.”

Halifax accounting, tax and business consulting firm MNP has been engaging co-op students for more than 15 years now. MNP’s Regional Human Capital Advisor, Norma Melancon, says they typically hire 4-6 each year and everyone enjoys working with them.

“They’re very inquisitive and innovative, and they challenge us,” says Melancon. “When you’ve been doing a job the same way for years, you don’t always question if it’s the most efficient way, so it’s wonderful to have them come in, observe, and make suggestions on how we might be able to improve.”

Shawn Smith, Regional Marketing Manager with MNP, agrees that co-op students offer a uniquely youthful outlook.

“They’re often able to look at new information, think outside of the box and create new opportunities for your business,” says Smith. “You might have been stuck on something for weeks or months, but they’re coming at it from a fresh perspective.”

While it’s true that students benefit from co-op terms, Melancon says employers have a lot to gain, too. They’re essentially getting a sneak peek at what their future employees value, how they think, and how their talents can be harnessed.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to be introduced to different thought processes, innovations and skill levels — and to understand the new generation as they’re coming up through school,” says Melancon. “The wants and needs of employees are changing, so this helps a business adapt their processes to better fit the growing generation.”

Peter Moorhouse has spent decades working towards making Halifax a place where young professionals can thrive.

During his time with the Halifax Partnership, he was heavily involved in projects to attract and retain young professionals in Halifax — which led to his founding Fusion Halifax, a non-profit organization working to empower young leaders. He then spent four years with T4G putting “a much more formatted approach” to hiring co-op students — some of whom are still enjoying a career there.

But Moorhouse says the true test came when he joined Atlantic Canada’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) as President & CEO in 2014.

He was now part of a tiny non-profit organization with no more than a dozen employees at most. Despite their small size, they began hiring marketing and PR students for co-op terms — and recently offered one a full-time, permanent position.

“If we, as a small non-profit organization, can commit to helping young people find that first role in their career and get them on-the-job work experience, anyone can,” insists Moorhouse. “There isn’t a single organization out there with an excuse. It’s a fantastic experience on both sides, if it’s done right — and there are a lot of people out there to make sure it is.”

He says everyone at the BBB found their students’ help “absolutely invaluable” as they went through a reinvention and needed the perspective of the younger generation.

Sometimes employers are wary of what it might cost to hire a co-op student, but Moorhouse says it’s “an excellent value” thanks to government subsidy programs that sometimes cover as much as half of the student’s salary.

“You’re getting a bright, talented university student who’s committed, hard-working and eager to learn — all for a subsidized cost,” says Moorhouse.

“They’re going to bring new ideas and new ways of thinking to your organization, and it may not cost you much more than minimum wage.”

The Now to Next Nova Scotia Co-operative Education Summit is set for March 8 at the Marriott Harbourfront Hotel in downtown Halifax. Participants will learn about the logistics of finding and hiring a co-op student, explore funding options (nscoopsummit.com) and even meet potential candidates.

When Moorhouse spoke at Now to Next last year, he covered the importance of creating a positive co-op experience on both sides.

“I’ve heard far too many stories about talented co-op students who were stuck filing papers or tidying meeting rooms. That’s not what they should be doing all day long,” says Moorhouse. “If you don’t give your student opportunities to provide value and take ownership over projects, they’re really not going to learn anything.”

He says he’s seen a lot of companies struggle because they jumped into nabbing a co-op student without first doing their homework. He believes the onus is on the employer to develop a solid, realistic job description that includes what the organization has to offer and how the student can add value — as well as how they will be supported during their co-op term.

Only once these details are finalized should an employer apply for subsidies or approach a school’s co-op coordinator to begin hunting for candidates.

Martin agrees that hiring a co-op student takes some time and effort — including interviews, onboarding and orientation. She suggests looking into resources that can make it easier, like hiring support through schools and education partners, as well as wage assistance like the Cooperative Education Incentive (CEI).

“When you hire a co-op student, you bring in someone with fresh energy who is eager to prove themselves and make an impact,” says Martin. “Their contributions will quickly add up, outweighing any of the time spent getting the program off the ground.”

“It’s easier than many realize, and the benefits are endless.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce

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