Co-op Best Practices > Conference 1994-Employer Forum Summary

Conference 1994-Employer Forum Summary

posted on January 2, 1996

Host: Dr. Graham Branton
Facilitator: Dr. Andy Farquharson
August 21-24, 1994 Kelowna, British Columbia

At the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education 1994 Conference an "Employer Forum" was hosted by Dr. Graham Branton, on behalf of the B.C. Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour's Advisory Committee on Co-operative Education Funding. The session was facilitated by Dr. Andy Farquharson, the facilitator of the Conference. The session was intended for employers of co-op students to help guide the development of a survey of co-op employer needs and perceptions of co-op programs. Through interactive small group discussions, employers expressed their needs and posed a number of questions concerning co-operative education.

Specific areas of discussion included:

  • What do employers want from co-op?
  • What are employers getting now?
  • How can co-op programs and practices be improved to better meet employer needs?

The agenda of the small group discussions included four key areas:

1.0 Identification of Issues
2.0 Solutions
3.0 Important Questions
4.0 Questions About Questions

Small group discussions generated valuable information. As employers collectively identified their issues and needs regarding co-operative education, many similarities and differences were uncovered. The unfolding of diverse viewpoints enriched discussions and she light towards the ultimate goal of improving co-operative education. Several employers represented different regions across Canada. The following summary highlights the wealth of information obtained from the "Employer Forum" at CAFCE '94.

1.0 Issues

Employers were requested to identify issues reflecting their concerns, needs and requirements of co-op education. The following outline captures the essence of the many issues generated:

Cost of Recruiting and Training Co-op Students

scheduling time for recruiting and training during peak periods
cost of training without guarantee student will return
employers' need to recover training expenditures through student productivity

Incentives for Hiring Co-op Students

potential opportunities for recruiting future employees

Approval Process for Co-op Funding

Logistics of the Co-op Placement System

blocking/matrix vs. continuous

Communications between Employers and Institutions

developing linkages through matching needs of employers with those of students
process of accommodating employer needs
coordinators to follow-up with employers during and after co-op placement

Balancing Student Needs (learning) with Employer Needs (productivity)

College (Diploma) Programs vs. University (Degree) Programs

Mobility of Students

influencing institutions to hire from smaller firms
servicing "out-of-town" organizations

Employers from Large vs. Small Organizations

different/similar goals and objectives?

Job Description vs. Job Reality

adaptability to changing employer needs
project vs. process assignments
creating opportunities for meaningful work

Quality of Supervision

monitoring and evaluating students' performance

Length and Flexibility of Co-op Work Terms

Salary Expectations

Marketing Issues - Awareness of Co-op Programs

Feedback from Students

2.0 Solutions

In response to the many issues generated, employers were encouraged to suggest immediate solutions.

The following solutions were given:

Renew Recruiting/Training Practices

create opportunities for student involvement

Involve Students in the Hiring Process

students to write job descriptions for future students
students to interview potential co-op employees

Establish Co-op Guidelines and Requirements for Employers

Develop Mechanisms for Feedback from Students to Employers

Exit Interviews from both Students and Employers

Co-operative Education Career Fairs

3.0 Important Questions

To help guide the development of a survey of co-op employer needs and perceptions of co-op programs, employers were asked to pose questions that would most adequately reflect their needs. Numbered questions have corresponding inquiries in the final section 4.0 Questions About Questions. Employers indicated that they would like the opportunity of responding to the following questions:

  1. What is the role of the Co-op Coordinator? What types of services do they provide?
  2. Does the current recruiting system of co-op students meet your needs?
  3. Do you have the computer capacity to do "on-line" recruiting?
  4. From which discipline/institution do you hire co-op students?
  5. Would you continue to hire co-op students if your cost/benefits analysis indicated that your costs exceeded the benefits?
  6. Do you hire co-op students outside your geographic area?
  7. If grants or subsidies are available for hiring co-op students, do you take advantage of them?
  8. How did you hear about co-operative education programs and opportunities?
  9. What per cent of your co-op students do you anticipate hiring as future employees?
  10. What is the field and size of your organization?
  11. Do you plan for your overall staffing needs?
  12. Do you plan for co-op students?
  13. For what types of work assignments do you require co-op students?
  14. What length of work term would best meet your needs?
  15. What skills do co-op students require to meet your expectations and needs?
  16. What are your future anticipated needs of co-op services?
  17. What goals and objectives do you expect to meet with co-op students?
  18. What are appropriate salary scales for co-op students?
  19. Have co-op students been valuable to your organization? How do you evaluate the performance of your co-op student(s)?
  20. Do you hire High School co-op students? Why or why not?

4.0 Questions About Questions

At the final stage of small group discussions, employers were asked to question the Important Questions.

This strategy was defined as a procedure for uncovering follow-up questions while providing in-depth information for data analyses on co-operative education. With reference to the previous numbered questions, the following numbered questions succeed correspondingly:

  1. What skills should a co-op coordinator have in order to best support your needs? What are the important functions a co-op coordinator can perform for you? Do you find the co-op coordinator role of value? Why or why not?
  2. How can institutions develop consistencies and a simplification of the co-op recruiting process? Do you require transcripts attached to student applications? Do you prefer covering letters? Do you expect to be recruiting more, the same, or fewer co-op students in the future? Why?
  3. Would you want to?
  4. Would you hire more co-op students if a new faculty were introduced? If so, which one?
  5. Why or why not?
  6. If not, what issues and/or obstacles discourage you from doing so?
  7. Do they determine whether or not you hire co-op student(s)? Is there a need for co-op subsidies and/or grants?
  8. Should we examine the overall process of accessing co-op information? How can employers discover whether other institutions/disciplines can better suit their needs?
  9. Do co-op graduates make 'better' permanent employees?

Employers are key in determining the success of co-operative educations programs. The information gathered from this Forum has been used to guide a study assessing employer needs. A survey has been sent to about 2,000 employers who hire co-op students from B.C. post-secondary institutions. The results of the survey are now being collated and analyzed and a report is to be prepared by late March. The recognition of meeting employer needs must be a critical element in the program design and delivery of existing and future co-operative education programs in the province of British Columbia and elsewhere.

The financial support of the British Columbia Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour, for this study, is gratefully acknowledged.