By Mark Swartz
Canadian Workplace Specialist
My daughter will likely be applying to college for a fashion program soon. She knows she enjoys the field, and has a good chance of gaining acceptance, because she already spent some time working in the industry – courtesy of her high school’s co-op placement program.
For a full semester, a couple of days each week, she was employed in an upscale clothing salon as part of her graduation requirements. There she learned to operate industrial sewing equipment, help with designs and production, and talk to customers respectfully. Showing up on time was a skill she acquired too (well, to some degree anyway).
Improve Your Productivity and Reputation
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 willing to start on the ground floor. No job was too mundane. Pick up a mop and sweep? Done. Help sew a seam? You betcha. 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 well, he can point to my daughter as an example when he tries to recruit other work term youth.
Making It Go Smoothly
If you’re 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?
• 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. Instead, elicit input from staff on how a student might best assist them.
• 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 easier 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.
Hosting a co-op student or intern – whether you choose to bring in one at a time or in waves, – can benefit all parties. You get to scout for real talent. And the student gets practical, relevant experience. My daughter is inclined to speak well of her co-op sponsor in the future. How’s that for creating your very own Brand Ambassador?
Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is the best selling author of "Get Wired, You're Hired!"
He is a professional speaker and consultant on workplace issues at www.CareerActivist.com.