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Ensuring Student Co-Ops and Internships Pay Off Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Mark Swartz
Thursday, May 10, 2007

My 17 year old daughter came home with some terrific news last week. She was beaming as she help up a thick, hastily opened envelope, clearly the cause of her elation. ''Dad, I got my acceptance letter...I made it into Ryerson University 's fashion program!''

Spontaneous hugs and kisses all around.

Her acceptance was secured, thanks in no small part, to a co-op semester she spent working in an upscale clothing salon as part of her high school requirements. There she learned to operate industrial sewing equipment, help with designs and production, and talk to customers respectfully. Not to mention how to using Toronto 's public transit system (sweet relief!). And discovering why showing up to work on time can be a good thing.

My daughter's employer ‚ ' the owner of the store ‚ ' got a fair shake out of the deal too. He ended up with an eager young apprentice who was willing to start on the ground floor. No job too mundane or tedious to start with. A desire to do well and prove herself. Assisting others so they could focus on their more important duties. And a virtual Cinderella to work with: everything ''please and thank you,'' just like at home (well, a father can indulge in wishful thinking too). The owner also has a future employee he can stay in touch with, invite in part-time to work when things are hectic, and cultivate as a knowledgeable staff member for down the road.

As for my daughter, she gained real life experience and exposure to an industry she is thinking of making her career in. Her knowledge of basic workplace etiquette improved tenfold. It showed her how to be helpful and proactive while on the job. And it boosted her self-confidence. On top of all that, she also received an excellent reference ‚ ' one from a respected member of the fashion world, which of course boosted her prospects on her Ryerson application as well.

Cooperative education program and internships, whether for high schools, colleges, universities or trade schools, are a three-way partnership between the employer, the student, and the school. In order for the program to be successful, there must be a clear understanding of the role of each partner, as well as a firm commitment to the program from each side. If you are an employer that is thinking of either starting - or improving an existing - co/op or internship program, consider the following tips:

• Begin With Clear Objectives:

What do you hope to achieve? Are you deliberately building a pipeline of young trainees for future staffing needs? Are you attempting to enhance your firm's reputation by the way you deal with students? You will want to ensure that your infrastructure, and efforts, will support your goals.

• Define Your Needs:

Outline the skill sets that you are looking for, and determine which areas of your organization could benefit most from student assistance.

• Consult With Your Staff:

Try not to plunk students into situations where the employees they will be working with have had little or no say in things. No sense setting up potential adversaries. Instead, elicit input from staff on how a student might best help them; what sort of training should be involved; expectations regarding monitoring of student progress; and other related matters.

• Become An Ally Of The School's Career Centre(S) You Partner With:

Internships and co-ops thrive when employer and school pave the path for a smooth process. You can assist by signing paper work quickly and by not making outrageous demands on the thinly stretched career centre personnel.

• Help The Student Get Onboard Quickly A planned entry makes things easy on everyone. Make sure you aid the student in finding his or her way around quickly. Introduce them to the team. Brief them in detail on tasks, expectations, reporting relationships. Assign a mentor who can give additional advice. And take the student to lunch with the group or individually ‚ ' it's a great way of saying welcome.

• Make It Special For Them When taking a student on, you have an opportunity to create the following:
  • a happy potential future employee
  • a smiling ambassador for your company
  • a future customer
  • a productive contributor while they're there

Which means you ought to pay attention to the care and feeding of students. Hold special events in which their efforts are recognized. Make sure that they meet all the senior executives at one point or another. Show them you care. Because they'll be sharing their thoughts about you on MySpace or FaceBook before you can say ''Please see our company policy regarding such matters.''

• Stay In Touch After the internship or co-op term ends, keep lines of communication open with the students you would like to have ongoing contact with. Invite them to company events from time to time. Send them an e-newsletter. Suggest that they update their resume on file with you every six months to a year. Have them recruit for you on career days and at job fairs.

Hosting a co-op student or intern ‚ ' whether you choose to bring in one at a time or in waves, - can be a win-win situation. You get to scout for real talent. And the student gets real life experience. My daughter is already panting at the chance to do an internship through Ryerson's fashion department. Calvin Klein, are you reading this?

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