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Minggu, 03 Juni 2012

Cindy Dunne, Director: Brock University Co-op Programs - Interview

Director of Co-op Education at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Co-op Education Programs at Brock University. Cindy Dunne describes the value and importance of co-op educational opportunities for both students and employers. She shares information on how Baby Boomer executives can get involved in the co-op educational process through hiring graduates, mentorship programs, and recruitment.

Thanks to Cindy Dunne for her time, and for her very comprehensive and informative responses. They are greatly appreciated.

You are director of Co-op Education at Brock University. What is a co-op program and how does it work?

Cindy Dunne: Co-op education offers a valuable opportunity for students to enhance their education by acquiring career-related work experience before graduation. Students gain practical experience, develop a network of contacts, and obtain a better understanding of careers in their field. Co-operative education is an academic program with alternating periods of work experience. The student is engaged in academically relevant and meaningful work.

How does a co-op program differ from an internship?

Cindy Dunne: Internship means many different things to different institutions. Some institutions define an internship as an extended period of employment (8-16 months) that may be paid or unpaid, while another institution might define an internship as an unpaid placement that may be part-time in nature and awarded academic credit. Co-op on the other hand has a very specific and commonly referred to definition as stated by the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education:

Direct from CAFCE website:

"Co-operative Education Program means a program which alternates periods of academic study with periods of work experience in appropriate fields of business, industry, government, social services and the professions in accordance with the following criteria:

(i) each work situation is developed and/or approved by the co-operative educational institution as a suitable learning situation;

(ii) the co-operative student is engaged in productive work rather than merely observing;

(iii) the co-operative student receives remuneration for the work performed;

(iv) the co-operative student's progress on the job is monitored by the co-operative educational institution;

(v) the co-operative student's performance on the job is supervised and evaluated by the student's co-operative employer;

(vi) the time spent in periods of work experience must be at least thirty per cent of the time spent in academic study.”
Source: CAFCE 2007

You describe co-op programs as an employment strategy for business. What do you mean by that?

Cindy Dunne: Attracting and selecting the right person for the job is a critical activity. With fewer and fewer hires being made, recruiting the right person with the skills and competencies required is taking on greater importance within corporations. Assuming an organization has identified key positions within the organization upon which they rely, a sophisticated talent acquisition strategy involves a pipeline approach.

Co-op students provide relief for short-term peaks in workload, or special projects and research; hiring a co-op student is a cost-effective and low-risk means of recruiting and evaluating potential permanent hires. With the looming wave of retirements anticipated in the private and public sector, hiring students is critical to securing employees for the future and cultivating their knowledge of the business.

While many companies have scaled back, or completely eliminated their on-campus recruiting efforts, savvy organizations recognize that maintaining a campus presence in light of reduced competition allows them access to the best and brightest talent available from the student population. Maintaining a campus presence and hiring co-op students when full-time hiring is restricted allows companies the opportunities to build their company brand and position themselves as an employer of choice.

Recruiting directly from University or College programs for specific skills and/or technical training is a very effective in acquiring talent trained in the newest concepts, theories and state of the art technologies. Companies benefit by participating in on-campus recruitment by avoiding the expenditures related to costly advertisements and search firm fees.

How can a co-op program assist Baby Boomer executives nearing retirement with their business succession plans?

Cindy Dunne: The anticipated retirements of the Baby Boom generation requires managers and executives to think about planned exits from the organization and having a ready successor to fill key vacancies within. Typically, those vacancies are filled by internal candidates in an organization, but many organizations have scaled back hiring over the past number of years, reduced spending on skills training and now find themselves facing a shortage of skilled labour within their companies.

Co-op students provide the strategic pipeline of skilled labour needed to address deficiencies in the future. It is well documented that employers providing meaningful employment and learning experiences for students are likely to retain student hires for permanent positions in the future. In fact, 97% of co-op students at Brock return to a previous co-op employer for full-time employment upon graduation.

Taking the time to identify key positions within the organization, and developing the competencies in junior staff to build the organizations skill portfolio is a strategic investment in the sustainability of the organization.

Is there a demand for students who are in or completing a co-op program?

Cindy Dunne: Despite the economic downturn and apparent decline in permanent hires, co-op programs at Brock University continue to be a source of short term hires for many organizations. Innovative and progressive organizations rely upon advanced training provided by post-secondary institutions. Organizations are waking up to the realization that reactive recruiting is no longer an option and that finding qualified candidates is difficult.

Strategic recruiters and managers know that building business and technical competence is a business necessity; they are more concerned with building organization readiness and capacity and less so with finding applicants. As stated previously, organizations recruiting co-op students make an investment in the students’ training, mentorship, organization knowledge and technical skills with an eye toward long term hiring. 97% of co-op students at Brock return to a previous co-op employer for permanent hire following graduation.

Temporary leaves, vacation, retirements, budget cuts, and peaks in work load leave organizations short staffed and challenged to meet company business goals. Resourceful managers find temporary support using co-op students to handle more complex tasks. Employers can use co-op students to fill labour needs with or without a long-term commitment.

How can Baby Boomer business leaders invest in a co-op program for the benefit of both the student and their entire organization?

Cindy Dunne: An effective mentoring relationship is necessary for all parties to benefit from a co-op experience. We want the experience of hiring a Brock Co-op student to be as productive as possible and to ensure maximum contribution. Mentorship can be undertaken by both experienced and inexperienced co-op employers and our Co-op Office assists mangers by providing checklists, orientation suggestions, ideas for work term assignments, performance management tools and much more.

Co-op students require some direction and leadership. The general principle of a co-op placement is to provide the student with meaningful experience which they can learn from and apply to their studies while he/she provides substantial contributions to the business. The whole work term is a continual learning process, and as such, there are rather obvious, but essential roles to be filled in a co-op placement. While the specific role of the student may be different for every assignment, their general role is to fulfill a need in the workplace and perform to a set standard of productivity.

In the beginning, an organization will provide the Co-op Office with a job posting which we can distribute to our co-op students. The posting describes the type of work along with the competencies and attributes being sought in a new hire. After the posting has been received, it will be put up on our job posting board and distributed to our students. Students will be instructed to apply internally to our website or directly to a company website.

Upon receiving the resumes, recruiters/managers will then select those candidates whom they wish to interview. Our Co-op staff will assist with making all interview arrangements to suit organization needs and availability. Once the interviews have been completed, the company contact will inform the Co-op Office of which student(s) to extend offers of employment.

With so many companies competing for similar skills, our best and brightest often enjoy multiple offers of employment. Students will work for a 16 week (extended work terms are available), paid work term. The work terms begin at the start of May, September or January.

The benefits for the students will be learning on the job and developing meaningful experience which they can relate back to their academic studies. The benefits to the employer include a year-round access to a pool of qualified and creative business students, recruitment and strategy support, and government wage and subsidy programs just to name a few.

Where does Brock University rank in relation to other Canadian universities in offering co-op programs?

Cindy Dunne: Brock offers a wide variety of co-op program offerings; 32 to be exact. Students are available in business, accounting; full range of sciences; liberal arts; and social sciences (undergraduate and graduate level programs). Approximately 2600 students participate in a co-op option of a degree program at Brock positioning us as one of the largest co-op institutions in Ontario and nationally. In addition, we offer Canada’s largest Business Co-op Program.

What is next for Cindy Dunne and for the Brock University Co-op Program?

Cindy Dunne: It is a University wide plan to work locally to grow employment opportunities in Niagara. The Niagara Region is a beautiful place to live, work and play, and as we transition from a primarily manufacturing based community to a knowledge based economy, I believe Brock University plays a pivotal role in building talent capacity for the jobs of the future in Niagara. Brock is a beacon of innovation for the Niagara Region and our students are inspired by relevant and current programs of study; top notch research facilities; and engaged and informed faculty.

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