Harvesting Future Talent Through
Co-Op/Intern Programs

by Freda Turner, Ph.D.

Chris just completed his Aeronautical Science Degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Last summer he participated in a 15-week co-op program with Continental Express in Houston. In addition to becoming familiar with the organization, he used his knowledge of aviation and computer skills to automate a new program for Continental. Chris was offered three other jobs during recent campus interviewing sessions, and he decided to accept the Continental offer. "I'm so excited to get started that I told the Continental recruiters I could be packed and in Houston within five days after graduation. My parents suggested I take a month break, but I am just too excited to get started. My roommate also accepted an offer from his co-op sponsor over other corporate opportunities. The co-op program allowed me to get to know the culture and interface with other employees for 15 weeks. I am not walking into a blind situation. From a student's perspective, co-op programs provide less risk than walking into a job after interviewing with two or three organizational representatives for a couple hours."

Susan, a sophomore in the business/communications program, participated in a co-op/internship program. While working for an organization as a co-op student, she researched their cell phone plans and recommended a way the organization could save $300.00 a month on corporate cell phone expenses. Additionally, she captured and summarized data needed by the human resources department; compared prices of numerous vendors and helped select and hire temporary help for an upcoming industry trade show. Susan states, "The advantages of the co-op/intern program for me was that I tried out the company, as they did me as to how well I fit into their organizational culture. I loved every day of my co-op program, learned a lot, got course credit, and have been invited to return next summer."

Currently Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University enjoys a strong relationship with FedEx. One FedEx manager of a co-op student reported, "I gave one of the fall interns a project that I estimated would take about three days to complete. It was a project that was needed but I just did not have the time to do the research. On the first day, he appeared before lunch with the assignment completed and was asking for another project. The Embry Riddle interns have really been a great talent source for us. Additionally, we provide the intern opportunities to participate in a wide variety of developmental, social and networking situations. We also benefit and enjoy suggestions and feedback from the Embry Riddle professors."

Cathleen, a 21-year-old engineering senior planned to continue into a master's program upon graduation. However, to keep her options open, she sent out six resumes. With a 3.2 grade-point average and two summer terms as a co-op, she received three offers - the lowest for $43,000 annually. "When I started interviewing, I got such an overwhelming response that it seemed best to begin working right away." In July she started as an engineer-in-training at a Port Authority where she participated in one of her co-op programs.

As in these students' experiences, there are several benefits arising out of corporate-academia partnerships. Benefits for the students range from increased experience to numerous job offers upon graduation, Benefits for employers include the ability to "groom" an excellent job candidate before actual job offers were made, as well as knowledge exchange and relationships with the academic community.

The initial purpose of intern programs was to provide a planned transition from the classroom to the job by allowing organizations the opportunity to assess an intern or co-op student's capabilities. Currently, three out of four students complete an internship program before college graduation compared to one in 36 in 1980. This increase represents a strategy of corporations to harvest future talent for their organization.

Organizational Benefits of Co-Op/Intern Relationships

As the labor market continues to shrink, college co-op/intern programs are becoming a central business recruiting strategy for real-world business needs. Specifically, company benefits include:

  • Co-op/interns become on-campus advertisements for an organization as they share their experiences with other students and professors. Students familiar with organization are attracted to permanent position offerings decreasing organizational recruiting costs.
  • Co-op/interns are paid considerably below their worth, usually not eligible for benefits or incentive bonuses which represent a considerable savings to the organization.
  • Co-op/interns release full-time, overworked employees from routine tasks.
  • Co-op/interns stimulate diffusion of knowledge, increase brainstorming and add diversity.
  • The relationship connects industry with professors and college Career Service Departments providing collegiate job fair recruiting opportunities.
  • The relationship represents good corporate citizenship by mentoring interns.

Student benefits from an Intern Program include:

  • Research shows interns enjoy faster advancement than non-interns do.
  • Students can receive course credit and income for their work experience in many cases.
  • Students get their first professional, detailed performance appraisal upon co-op/ internship completion.

Setting up a Co-Op/Internship Program is easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Contact the University Career Services Office for access to resumes and interview arrangements.

  2. A detailed job description should outline the student's responsibilities along with compensation/arrangements provided.

  3. Measure Internship Value. Exit interviews of interns should be the same as for full-time employees. The performance appraisal might evaluate skills such sales ability, project management, being a team player, organizational commitment, analytical skills, quantitative ability, and leadership. These assessments give the company a way to preview a prospective employee.

The advantages for participating businesses include a low-cost acquisition of additional talent during busy seasons without the long-term commitment of a permanent employee. Mead Products offers an internship program in which college students are trained as temporary supervisors. The program has proven to be an overwhelming success for both the students and Mead with one Service Manager pointing out that "the internship program has greatly improved the quality of our seasonal supervisors. In addition, the hiring of summer supervisors is now much more cost efficient because the University Internship Manager conducts the initial screening of job candidates." Mead Products also found the supervisors already working for Mead enjoyed the questions from the student interns thus developing their mentoring and supervisor skills.

At Intel, college interns are also a valued talent resource. Intel estimates that 70% of students completing their internship return for full-time employment and a full 80% come back for follow-up internships/co-op opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the market will need approximately 1.4 million new skilled technology workers between now and 2006. Intel is developing an awareness of their organization through intern and co-op programs.

Overall, internship programs provide mutually rewarding outcomes. The organizations that recruit and train co-op/interns end up having stronger chances of hiring these candidates permanently. Linking organization strategy and co-op/intern staffing initiatives will help fill an organization's future talent needs.

Freda Turner teaches at the University of Phoenix and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She may be reached at fturner@email.uophx.edu.

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Copyright 2002 by Freda Turner. All rights reserved.

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