How to Make the Most Out of a Co-op (and Why It Matters)

8.28.2014 »
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Cooperative education (co-op) has been around for over a hundred years. Even after all of this time, I’ve heard and experienced firsthand some horror stories about what should otherwise be one of the biggest growing experiences for students—not just professionally, but personally as well.

Sanger & Eby's Development Team, August 2014

Having a couple semesters under my belt (including 2 at Sanger & Eby now), I feel like I can share what I’ve learned to help both employers and co-ops complete the semester with a great experience. Here’s my guide on how employers can make the most out of a co-opand why it matters.

Communicate clearly and honestly
For everyone involved, this is extremely important before, during, and after the semester. The company needs to clearly and honestly tell the co-op what qualifications they’re looking for and be honest about the work that the co-op will be doing.

If on a daily basis your co-op is just entering data into an Excel document or shadowing a full-time employee, you’re not only wasting the co-op’s time, but yours as wellcheating yourself out of the value a good co-op can bring. As co-ops, we understand that there will be work no one else wants to do, but give us experiences from which we can learn and grow, too. It’s a give and take.

Structure
I know from previous experience (not at Sanger & Eby of course) that some of the worst horror stories root from an unorganized co-op. I’d say the first week is the most important part of the co-op’s time at the company. You need to set the standards that the co-op is expected to meet.

On the morning of my first day at Sanger & Eby, I was immediately introduced to different aspects of my role and given a big project that I felt made a difference to my team. I’ve heard of other students who walk into new co-ops and count ceiling tiles for the first week.

Think of the Co-op as a Plant:

  • The first week is the most labor intensive, cultivating the soil, planting the seed, getting it enough sunlight.
  • After you plant the seed, you now have to make sure it gets watered and maybe pluck some weeds out. The co-op needs room to grow.
  • Check up on them to make sure that they are doing well and be willing to help with any problems they may have.

Follow these guidelines and your co-op will thrive. Remember, this is the time that they experience the “real world” and having a real world job, with real responsibilities.

I’m so grateful that I’ve had 2 web development co-op rotations at Sanger & Eby. Coming in everyday and really making an impact, deciding what holds the highest priority, handling deadlines, and scoping out the best way to achieve a goal are the most valuable lessons I’ve learned. And I learned these because my wonderful bosses, Jay Larbes and Mike Welch, gave me space to really succeed—AND fail (though they’d be there to help fix my shortcomings whenever I needed them to).

I’m sad to leave, but I leave knowing that I was able to learn so much in such a short amount of time and also contribute to the overall company. I know I still have a lot to learn in the coming years, but based on my co-op experience, let’s say I’m very excited for the future.

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