The Cooperative Advantage

Articles and opinion pieces discussing Universities and Colleges alike seem to constantly be in the news and going viral on social media regarding the high costs to attend 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 is allowing 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 launched by the University of Cincinnati (OH) in 1906. This strategy or Co-op program has evolved, and today is a requirement for many students depending upon the curriculum of their program or college. For students within The College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) students 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 of paid full time experience 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.

At Melink Corporation, we regularly employee Engineering Co-op students. For nearly 5 years, we’ve had great success in developing future leaders in our program, meanwhile providing a boost to our day to day operations. Co-ops have delivered unexpected benefits such as keeping us all up to date with the latest trends, whether it be Crypto-Currency or Pokémon Go!

 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 Employee/Student: “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/transferrable skills on-the-job, and get paid to do so! At the same time, employers have the opportunity to bring fresh perspectives to their team, receive some productivity, and groom potential future employees or even leaders of the company!

When considering our current dilemma and contrast between the cost of education and barrier to entry for entry level roles, I believe Co-op programs are a great near-term solution. Over the last 5 years, Melink has had about 2 co-ops per year. Our more long-term success rate of hiring these students full time after graduation has been nearly 50%! I’ll ask you, as either a student or potential hiring employee to consider the positive impact a co-op program can for you or your organization.