Co-operative education programs provide excellent opportunities for students to develop skills and abilities in their field of choice. On the job, students can build knowledge, develop business savvy and in turn, gain confidence in their marketability. These benefits are particularly prominent when work terms enable students to have meaningful learning opportunities. One practice that can increase the depth and breadth of learning opportunities are the setting of work term objectives.
Work term objectives
Work term objectives are statements that describe goals to be completed during the co-op work term. The objectives can combine elements from the supervisor’s expectations as well as the students’ job description and learning aspirations to create specific performance targets and learning goals. When designed in partnership between the student and their supervisor, work term objectives help ensure a successful work term for everyone involved.
Partnership for success
When students meet with their supervisor early on the in the placement and regularly throughout the term regarding work term objectives, students are better able to:
- Clearly articulate job requirements and performance expectations
- Apply academic learning to the work environment
- Work productively and with direction from the onset of the term
- Perceive and maximize performance opportunities
- Work with greater motivation and energy
- Increase contribution as the term progresses
- Improve performance with each successive term
In short, work term objectives help students perform to the best of their abilities and get the most from their work experiences.
Strategies for institutions
For work term objectives to become a successful learning tool they must be integrated within the co-operative education programs on a number of levels, from campus to work site. Below is a list of areas where work term objectives may be woven into the programs:
- Workshops: Provide students with the opportunity to practice writing effective work term objectives prior to attending their first work term and an opportunity to debrief their experience upon their return to campus.
- Email: Send employers an e-mail notification that students will be developing work term objectives and looking to meet with their supervisor to discuss their goals.
- On-site visit: Have co-op staff discuss work term objectives with supervisors and students during the on-site visit and upon student’s return to campus. In doing so, students interpret the discussions as value added activities that invest in their learning.
- Create Impetus: Tell students that employers have been informed via e-mail of the work term objectives assignment. If students know that employers are aware they tend to have greater impetus to complete the task.
- Establish as professional practice: Explain to students that setting work term objectives aligns with the standard practice of many professional work environments that require employees to set annual performance goals.
Strategies for students
Students need to be provided with opportunities to learn about setting successful work term objectives. Below are some strategies that have proven effective:
- Meaningful: Ask students to develop work term objectives that they perceive as personally meaningful. Students will have greater impetus to develop, initiate and follow through on objectives that they have created themselves.
- S.M.A.R.T.: Ensure students create objectives that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Sensitive). These types of objectives garner greater results because they clearly and specifically address performance goals rather than broad emotions or behaviors.
- Shared: Require that students develop their work term objectives in conjunction with their supervisors. This will ensure that supervisors are aware of student’s goals and supportive of their completion.
- Link with professional associations: Ask students to link their work term objectives with the requirements set by professional associations, particularly in the accounting and engineering fields. Students value working towards professional designations and will therefore appreciate setting work term objectives in this regard.
- Provide examples: Provide students with examples of both poor quality and high quality work term objectives. Students often find it more difficult to create S.M.A.R.T. objectives then they expected.
When developed as a means to increase learning potential on the job, students find value in creating work term objectives. As well, employers benefit by having a student employee that has greater communication, motivation and performance. In all, work term objectives help enable a more meaningful and positive co-operative education experience for students and employers alike.
Jeela Jones has incorporated work term objectives into the University of Ottawa Co-operative Education Curriculum. For more information on work term objectives or other adult education practices please feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-562-5800 x. 6884.