Articles and opinion pieces discussing universities and colleges seem to constantly be going viral on social media regarding the high attendance costs and the inevitable debt that most students incur. At the same time many employers have a high bar to even be considered for an entry level position.
I can recall in the early days of my career applying for entry level roles with requirements like:
- Bachelor’s degree in engineering or technology required – MBA preferred
- 2 years of technical experience required – 3+ years preferred
- Leadership experience required
With such a high barrier to entry needed, yet a high financial cost to surpass this barrier, how can employers and students or aspiring employees both win?
Several universities have implemented a strategy, going back several decades or even a century, that allows for a win-win both for students and employers. What strategy? Cooperative education programs, or as they are largely known today: Co-ops.
The first university to implement such a strategy was the University of Cincinnati in 1906. The Co-op strategy has since evolved, and today it is a requirement for many students depending upon the curriculum of their program or college. For students within UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), they are required to have a minimum of 12 months of full-time, paid experience as a part of the curriculum. Many students have even more full-time experience, with some having as much as two full years before graduation!
Other colleges such as Cornell University and Northeastern University have similar Co-op programs, where certain students are required to partake in a professional experience.
Co-ops at Melink
At Melink Corporation, we regularly employee engineering Co-op students. For nearly five years, we’ve had great success in developing future leaders in our program, meanwhile providing a boost to our day-to-day operations. We employ about two co-ops per year. Co-ops have delivered unexpected benefits such as keeping us up to date with the latest trends, whether it be Crypto-Currency or Pokémon Go! And our long-term success rate of hiring these students full time after graduation has been nearly 50%!
Don’t just take it from me…
Current Melink Employee: “These students on our team become key members that directly
contribute to the team and assist in many roles such as project management, estimating, sales efforts, and customer service.”
Current Melink Co-op: “This Co-op experience has reinforced the importance of communication and deadlines. While my actual course material may not be much easier after this co-op, the way I will go about learning, studying, and working as a team will be.”
The Co-op experience enables students to learn more tangible/transferable on-the-job skills, all while getting paid to do so! At the same time, employers have the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to their team, receive some form of productivity, and groom potential future employees.
When considering the country's current dilemma between the cost of education as a barrier to entry level roles, I believe Co-op programs are a great near-term solution. I’ll ask you, as either a student or potential hiring employer, to consider the positive impact a Co-op program can have for you or your organization.