Should you be hiring more co-op students?

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In today’s competitive job market, savvy students who are preparing to enter the workforce are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from other applicants. Because classroom instruction alone is generally not sufficient to equip today's students with the knowledge and skills required to kickstart a successful career, co-operative education is becoming an increasingly popular option.
Co-operative education, or the “co-op” as it is more commonly known, is a program delivery mode that relates classroom learning to the world of work by formally integrating work experience into the student’s program of study. Although the specifics may vary by educational institution, the usual format is for students to alternate study terms with paid four-month work terms in appropriate fields of business, industry or government. Co-op is generally a partnership between students, employers and the educational institution that provides students with work experience to complement their academic training.
Ashton College in Vancouver BC, has utilized co-op students since 2012. According to Ashton’s Talent Acquisition Specialist, Heather Blanchard, “Ashton first became involved with co-op students because we wanted to provide opportunities for young professionals to gain practical experience and because we wanted to hire individuals to work on short-term, specialized projects. The program has been a mutually beneficial experience for our co-op students and the organization, and our staff is always blown away with the fresh ideas and eagerness of co-op students.”
Here are five of the biggest benefits of employing co-op students:
  1. Multiple start dates. Students are available year round, with co-op terms generally beginning in January, May or September. A typical work term duration is four months; however, extended placements are easily facilitated.
  2. Cost reduction. Co-op students allow organizations to reduce the costs associated with recruiting through traditional media sources. Employing co-op students is also a cost-effective and low-risk means of recruiting and evaluating potential future hires.
  3. Become an employer of choice. Through co-op your organization will establish an enhanced presence on campus and will be seen as an employer of choice by students seeking employment. Co-op allows you to promote your organization as one that's interested in developing the potential of young people.
  4. Employee development. Employment of co-op students gives a supervisor the opportunity to mentor bright and enthusiastic students, as well as the chance to take part in the training of their future colleagues.
  5. Fresh blood. Co-op students bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and enthusiasm to the workplace. Co-op also helps to keep your organization on the leading edge of technology by employing students who are up-to-date with currents trends.

In Canada, co-op education is overseen by the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education (CAFCE) who works to ensure the quality of co-op programs through its national accreditation system, which serves as a measure of quality control for students and employers. For programs to be accredited, the students taking them must be paid, must receive regular feedback from employers, and must alternate between study and work terms. Work terms need to be closely related to students’ academic studies and comprise at least 30 percent of an academic program. According to CAFCE, 55 universities, 26 colleges and three institutes offer approximately 1,100 co-op programs.
To find a co-op program near you, visit
About the author: 

Janice Bandick is the Communications Assistant at Ashton College, a private college in Vancouver. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has since become a national and international force in the field of education. Ashton College's Diploma in Human Resources Management program is offered in an innovative live online format to help those across Canada prepare for the National Knowledge Exam and become a candidate for the CHRP.

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