Co-op Students: The Hows and Whys

Coming from the University of Waterloo Cooperative Education is a big deal to me.
Such a big deal, that one of the first things I did was help create and maintain our Coop program.

The goal of a successful Coop program is to not only benefit the Host Company, but also enrich the student with information and work experience they might not have otherwise experienced.
As such, here are a few basic tenants that I believe help achieve this.

1. Don’t put them on their own special project that lasts the internship

For many reasons, this is one of the worst things that can happen to a student. Yet it’s so common that many students don’t realize how wrong it is.

These projects are just time-sinks. They’re unimportant, and so mundane that no one else wants to do them, so they hire Coops or Interns to do them instead. These projects often times have release schedules so far out, they can hire multiple coop students and hardly make a dent in the project. This also limits how often they can interact with the team, how much they can learn and absorb from their coworkers. Being able work side-by-side with someone much more experienced than you is one of the main benefits of coop.

2. Treat them the way you’d treat any other employee

Along with the theme that your coops should be doing the same sort of work as everyone else, your coops should be treated the same as everyone else. This means that asking your coops to do a coffee run, pick up your dry-cleaning, etc, are all off limits. This is not what they were hired for. This also means that your coops should have the same sort of responsibilities of other engineers. Perhaps not the same sort of access or credentials, but at they should be responsible for their efforts the same as anyone else is.

It also means that they should be invited to the same events as everyone else. If the department has an outing, they should be given the opportunity to go, the same as everyone else.

3. Keep in touch with your student

Sometimes the coop student won’t be working directly under you. Perhaps they’re working on an offshoot branch of your team. Perhaps you have dynamic teams. In any case, it’s often easy to for the Coop to be working on tasks that you might not be directly overseeing.

This doesn’t necessary mean formal reviews, and sitdowns. But it’s good practice to ensure you’re speaking regularly.
Make sure that the work being given is of interest with the coop student, and that the coop student is achieving work that is meaningful for the company.