Finding young, qualified talent to work in the tech industry can be as challenging as trying to find your first job. Having any experience tends to improve the odds, but getting it isn’t always easy. There are essentially three ways to fill out the resume: find a part-time job in industry, find an internship, or go to a university with a co-op program.
The first option is usually like trying to find that job without any experience. Some are lucky to nab a paid position, while others may have to work for free. Programmers can often participate in open-source projects, but hardware designers and engineers may find it more difficult to get involved in projects.
Many universities encourage internships, and some have programs designed to match students with companies that have internships. Part of the challenge with internships is that they’re often unpaid, vary in duration, may be part time, and so on. They can provide budding engineers with a taste of industry and even some good training. However, unless an internship is repeated, the experience is more limited.
Co-op programs are designed for full-time positions that repeat over the course of earning a degree, and often extend the typical four-year program to five years. There are no breaks, as students wind up alternating between taking courses and working, usually alternating semesters. This makes it possible for a company to fill a position throughout the year with different students who are on alternating schedules.
Companies benefit by having a known, future graduate who will have experience with the company and its processes. The typical half-hour interview will now be a year or more of experience. Students benefit from exposure to industry and typically gain as much or more education in the real world that can also help direct their studies in college.
I can endorse Georgia Tech’s co-op programing as a graduate from the program with a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering. I was able to pay for Tech with my co-op earnings, although these days, expenses tend to a bit higher. Other well-known schools have well-established co-op programs, too, including Drexel, Northeastern, Rochester Institute of Technology, Clarkson University, and many more.
Co-op programs within a company require some effort for both human resources as well as the groups where co-op students work. Though the programs are generally easier to implement in larger companies, small- and medium-sized organizations can participate as well. Co-op programs in universities are designed to work with all types of companies.
Co-op students can be useful for projects that might not otherwise be languishing, simply because the full-time staff is too busy. Of course, co-op graduates can be a good source for new staff, although there’s no requirement to offer a co-op graduate a job.
I learned a lot at Georgia Tech and at Burroughs where I co-op’ed. I actually wound up at RCA’s Sarnoff Research Labs when I graduated, and I know my experience at Burroughs was a good reason for that happening. You may want to hire a co-op graduate, so consider looking into starting a co-op program if you don’t have one already.