Author Topic: Co-Op Education: Is it as good as it should be? 70% say ‘No’  (Read 824 times)

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Offline daftandbarmy

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Co-Op Education: Is it as good as it should be? 70% say ‘No’

"Social, economic, and historic forces are making cooperative education more relevant than ever" Grubb & Villeneuve

I think Co-Op Education programs are great.

My positive impression may have something to do with the fact that I credit a Co-Op program for helping to launch me on my successful career in professional services and now, here I am, over 20 years later, a partner in my own management consulting firm. As a result, Berlineaton takes an almost familial interest in Co-Op education programs, and how to make sure they can Continuously Improve. We’ve recently completed a survey with Co-Op students about their experiences with this popular, experiential approach to Post-Secondary education and, speaking as a former Co-Op student, I think the insights they have shared will surprise you.

Co-Operative education is a structured method of combining classroom-based learning with paid work placements. Under the right circumstances, Co-Op reflects the finest that experiential education programs can offer, providing a win-win situation for both students and employers. At its best, students gain valuable work skills and contacts while connecting their studies with real-world practices; and they love it. As one student told us “Co-Ops are such a valuable part of our degree and give us a great advantage after graduation.” Employers love it too. David McKay, the CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, notes that “for employers, Co-Op has become a critical bridge to our country’s outstanding schools and centres of excellence.” In our survey, we asked students to tell us what went well, and what could have been improved, about their Co-Op experience. We also asked them to score their general satisfaction with the program out of 10. Overall, we discovered that students were not satisfied.

70% of respondents indicated that their Co-Op experience did not meet expectations. Satisfaction levels out of 10? An average of 5…or 50%: that’s a solid D minus.

So, what did we learn that Post-Secondary institutions need to do to get it right? Here are the top four themes that emerged from the Co-Op students we surveyed, in order of priority:

1. Students want to be treated just like a normal customer. 95% of those we surveyed said that the Co-Op program, as a business itself, doesn’t provide enough value for its main customers: the students. The only students who noted that they were satisfied with the program were those who created paths on their own, and who didn’t interact with the Co-Op office at all. As one student said, “many of us felt that we were just handing over heaps of money to the Co-Op office for minimal value in return.” Another commented that “the Co-Op advisors did not seem at all interested in me as an individual”. Post-Secondary institutions need to improve their customer service standards for students.

2. Students want good jobs, not just good grades. 90% of those we surveyed said that there is a lack of relevant job postings, and that they felt forced to either accept a job they didn’t want, or spend precious time using personal connections to find a better placement. In today’s uncertain work climate, students see Co-Op jobs as valuable stepping stones on the path to their ideal career. Post-Secondary institutions need to do a better job at finding good jobs for students.

3. Establish stronger connections with the employers that students want to work with. 75% of those surveyed said that the Co-Op office was not able to effectively support them in finding a job in their chosen field. Students want the Co-Op program to build more business connections and to create a stronger community presence. As one student said “if we tell the Co-Op office what sector or companies we are interested in, it would be great if they could reach out to these companies, or to the sector in general.”

4. Provide enough of the right institutional resources. About 70% of those we surveyed said that Co-Op Office staff capacity and capability was poor i.e., there weren’t enough Co-Op staff, and some of them did a poor job of customer (student) service. Institutions must ensure that they have enough staff, with the 'right stuff', to provide a superior level of service to students.

How can we Continuously Improve Co-Operative Education?

Co-Operative education programs are one of the most valuable services Post-Secondary institutions have to offer their students. However, we can no longer get away with, as noted by Harvey Weingarten, CEO of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario“ slapping together work-integrated learning programs, calling it experiential learning and promoting it to students.” So what, then, should Co-Op offices do? Using Berlineaton’s Continuous Improvement methodology as a framework, here is some great advice we gleaned from the Co-Op students we surveyed:


Build a shared vision. Co-Op offices must do a better job of engaging both students and employers in designing programs that meet the end goals of both parties. Students tell us that they want relevant Co-Op jobs, and we know that employers want students who can fill their particular needs. Post-Secondary institutions should play more effective facilitation role in helping both students and employers create the future they both want and need.


Make it easy to say ‘yes’ to Co-Op. No one wants to have to struggle through layers of bureaucracy and procedural red-tape, least of all harried students and frenetic employers. Post-Secondary institutions need to create streamlined processes and leverage modern technology, like the iPhone. Co-Op: Is there an app for that? If not, there should be.


Put students at the centre. Students must be positioned as empowered and engaged actors at the centre of their own learning and career management. Students are customers who pay a lot of money for services that they have a right to feel well served by. Like any other customer, they expect to receive customized assistance and to feel that their personal career goals matter to Co-Op staff and employers. Post-Secondary institutions need to provide enough staff resources with the skills, capability and desire to help students find and keep a good match with employers.

Or, like any other dissatisfied customer, these savvy, and extensively networked and self-directed, young people will take their business elsewhere.

Richard Eaton is a co-founding partner of Berlineaton and a senior management consultant with over 20 years’ experience facilitating significant and positive culture shifts within large organizations and complex human systems.
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline runormal

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Re: Co-Op Education: Is it as good as it should be? 70% say ‘No’
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2017, 06:44:42 »
The Biggest challenge I faced at my post secondary institution was the sheer lack of spots. You typically needed a B+ average or higher to even be accepted into the program and even then the pickings were slim. They'd pre-accept students from Highschool for COOP which began the summer of 2nd year and if you didn't keep a A- average you'd loose your spot.

I found my own job so I didn't have to deal with the school and that job turned into a part-time job for the remainder of my undergrad and was full time in the summers. Luckily after graduation it turned into a full time job.

One thing that irritated me was that they said for most 2nd year students it's hard getting placed because of way the program is structured which has 2nd year and 4th year students competing for the same jobs. So I asked "can I just skip that round and go on my DP 1" "We don't accommodate for the army sorry". "But you can't even guarantee me a co-op spot" "Correct , but you still need to go through the process, if you don't get placed you can skip this summer". The other thing was even if you found your own job you had to pay the coop office the full administration fee for the program even though they did nothing to help you with finding said job..
« Last Edit: February 28, 2017, 06:48:13 by runormal »

Offline Blackadder1916

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Re: Co-Op Education: Is it as good as it should be? 70% say ‘No’
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2017, 12:39:10 »
How is it from an employer's point of view when dealing with the educational institution?  While my experience is dated (some 30 years ago), it was a pain in the *** to actually engage a co-op student.  Granted, we were probably not an ideal employer for a student seeking work experience that would be directly relevant to his degree program and hoping it to be a direct connection to employment following graduation.  What we (DMAR - Surg Gen - NDHQ) were looking for was a reasonably intelligent warm body that would assist with a number of the projects that we had on-going.  Thus, there was zero likelihood that the individual would have a job in our branch following completion of the program.  The reason that a co-op student seemed a possible solution was that there was money (from someone else's budget - it was specifically for co-op students) for the hire.  We had no problem with getting authority for the position, most of the aggravation was in meeting the requirements that the uni's co-op office demanded (e.g. education level of the individual who would be supervising the student, detailed listing of his duties and subsequent evaluation (in a specific format) of how he met each of the requirements . . .).  It was more trouble than it was worth, especially since what we really wanted was cheap labour.  I'm not, however, slagging the quality of work that a student could provide.  We did have a summer student (not a co-op) during the same time frame who also worked directly for me.  We re-hired him for subsequent summers and sometime after he graduated, he not only was hired by DND but, after my former position was civilianized (I had been posted a couple years before that) he applied for it and got it.
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