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What about Student Engagement in the Co-op Process?

One of the most frequent topics of discussion over the years that I have had with my co-op colleagues is student engagement. For myself I have often thought about this, as well as receiving many opinions and suggestions from others as how to define it as well as possible resolutions to the issue. The following is a brief overview of what I know and the questions that I still have about it all.

Why and Why Not?

For myself as a co-op practitioner, student engagement has meant whether or not co-op students are actively engaged in the co-op job application process. To put it simply- whether or not co-op students are applying to jobs. Having been involved with a wide variety of co-op programs both mandatory as well as optional-selective, I have long witnessed the issue of co-op students not applying to jobs as a constant challenge. Of course I am referring to just some co-op students and certainly not all of them.

The question that I and others have always wondered about is why? That is, why don’t some co-op students apply to co-op jobs? Secondly, why do other co-op students actively apply? Around these basic questions revolve a number of interconnected issues.

The Issues, At Least Some of Them

Sometimes when I am speaking to co-op students in class I sometimes find myself saying something like the following in an effort to encourage them to apply to jobs: “If you don’t apply to the co-op positons posted, I can only guarantee one thing will happen. In fact, what will happen is nothing. That is, if you don’t apply, you won’t get shortlisted, you won’t get an interview request and you won’t get a job offer.  Nothing will happen. It’s as simple as that.”

I have often been told by fellow co-op practitioners and I have certainly witnessed this for myself, that there is often a situation every term where there is multuitlpe co-op jobs posted, there will invariably be some students who have applied to only a few jobs or none at all. For myself and others, applying to no jobs or a limited number, where many good and relevant jobs have been posted is somewhat reflective I think, of not being engaged in the co-op job application process. Simply, not applying =not participating=not being engaged. There’s the formula.

The Student View-Some not All

When I or others have asked students as to why they might not have been applying actively to jobs , some of the answers I have heard or been told about include but are not limited to the following:

  • The co-op jobs posted weren’t’ really what I was looking for
  • The jobs posted were really beyond my skills
  • The co-op jobs posted weren’t challenging enough
  • I was really too busy with course work to apply to any co-op jobs
  • I thought there would be better jobs posted later so I didn’t apply to any jobs right now
  • I am not sure I want to be in co-op
  • I didn’t think anyone would want to hire me

Some Suggestions that Have Been Made- Right or Wrong

In speaking with and listening to others about this facet of student engagement as related to job applications, I have heard many suggestion as to how to address it. There have been many suggestions/recommendation and have included some of the following. Please note I am just reporting these suggestions not necessarily recommending them:

  • If co-op students don’t apply to jobs they should be asked to leave the co-op program
  • To facilitate engagement, students should be charged a program application fee. Paying a fee would facilitate student engagement/involvement
  • Have co-op employers’ talk directly to co-op students in workshops/classes outlining the benefits of working for their organization
  • Have former co-op students speak with current co-op students about applying to positions and the benefits of co-op
  • Have relevant faculty speak with current co-op current students about applying to positions and the benefits of co-op
  • Have co-op coordinators work with and counsel co-op students on a one on one basis in helping identify which jobs that are posted are most suitable to them and their individual career goals
  • As co-op coordinators simply don’t do anything. The job marketplace will sort out who will get a job and who won’t. Those who don’t apply and are not engaged in the application process simply won’t get jobs and won’t benefit from the work experience

Possible Answers for the Future

I have endeavored to implement a few of these suggestions often with limited success. Whatever solutions that may prove effective and sustainable certainly will require further discussion and inquiry by co-op practitioners. In the meantime there are co-op programs which continue to post jobs which may receive limited or in some extreme cases, no applications from students. In short, co-op jobs with great learning potential and career building opportunities are forfeited or postponed due to limited applications.

The good news is that there is so many co-op students who are in fact very engaged, who apply enthusiastically to jobs and are able to achieve great and meaningful co-op positions. Perhaps what is required is an analysis and comparison of those students who are engaged in the job application process and those who are not, to really uncover the reasons why. Such information could help in developing a solid factual foundation in formulating strategies to move forward.