Author: Ada Tai, MBA, CPHR, C.Mgr.
Co-Author: Rickard Enstroem, PhD, CPHR Associate Member, CMGR FCMI, C.Mgr.
Recently, I conducted a survey with the post-secondary students in my classes regarding their job search challenges. What intrigued me, however, was their wish to learn more about the employer’s expectations and workplace culture before signing up. If the workplace is not suitable for them, then they are more inclined to switch jobs rather than stay and suffer. For an average organization, recruitment and integration of a new hire can cost up to 3.5 times of the new hire’s first year salary. It is alarming to know that millennials, who make up roughly half of today’s workforce, are estimated to change jobs more than 10 times during their work life!
During this conversation with these groups of students, more than 70% of them told me that they believe a co-op program is a great way to help them learn about employer’s expectations and workplace culture. Without hesitation, I reached out to Dr. Rickard Enstroem, Associate Professor and Chair of the Decision Sciences Department at the School of Business, MacEwan University, where he has overseen the co-op program in Supply Chain Management for 7 years.
Rickard: In my experience, students that take co-op programs are generally more successful in finding their preferred first jobs upon graduation. Through my many interactions I have had with both students and co-op employers over the years, I can attest to the boost in self confidence students experienced. To tell you the truth, I am not surprised as work-integrated learning, to which the co-op approach belongs, immerse students in a ‘real’ environment where they have unique opportunities to develop their professional skills and what is often called ‘enterprising capabilities’ (Enstroem, 2018; Benson & Enstroem, 2017). What I mean by this are opportunities for learning about themselves in an environment with authentic work tasks which involves interacting with people, managing uncertainty, and planning ahead. All in all, this results in a feeling of self-reliance—a simultaneous increase in both competence and confidence—so that they can make effective contributions in the workplace (The Confidence-Competence Interplay: Benson & Enstroem, 2015). In fact, I truly see co-op as a bridge between formal education and work readiness.
Ada: I agree that a co-op program benefits both the students and the employers. What would you suggest that employers take into consideration when designing a co-op experience?
Rickard: Many of the features that comprise a good co-op would also be tools that employers could use to onboard and retain new hires: meaningful work assignments with problem-solving components, a supportive environment with a workplace mentor, and a company culture which allows for a trial and error approach where mistakes are seen as opportunities for improvement and learning. In short, a co-op experience results in enhanced employability!
Ada: That sounds interesting! What I also see is that although employers are trying to engage potential candidates in multiple ways, many students still see the recruitment process as their only way to learn about the employer’s expectations and workplace culture.
Rickard: Then, what I would suggest is that employers also consider expanding their outreach to the potential candidates by:
engaging students in organization-initiated volunteer activities
developing alumni mentorship programs
offering job shadowing opportunities
arranging “a day in the life of” tours at work sites
participating in campus events and work fairs
Ada: Several years ago, I partnered up with a couple of line managers of a company to join a graduating class at a local university for a day. We wanted to promote the company’s brand and got the word out that we need to hire 8 entry level positions. We first introduced ourselves and the company to the students, then we participated in the class activities together with the students. There was also ample networking time to get to know the students. We closed the day by signing students up for touring at the company. At the end, the company hired 6 out of the 8 positions through this group of students without going through the typical recruitment process and cost. Luckily, we filled the other 2 positions through referrals by this group of students.
Now more than ever, company culture and employee experience play a critical role in the success of an organization and its workers. As workplace demographics change, so do the expectations of new hires – considering the wants and needs of potential employees will not only help organizations to improve retention and to reduce onboarding costs, but to also improve the brand reputation.