Internships, Co-Ops and the University of Waterloo

Universityof WaterlooHave you heard of the University of Waterloo? Chances are, if you’re in HR and are in the tech industry you have. If you aren’t than you probably haven’t.

There is a reason why every year, the US’ top technology and startup companies including Google, Facebook, Apple and more descend upon this small Canadian town – the University of Waterloo has the world’s largest co-op program and because of this, churns out some of the most professionally polished and talented student engineers.

The incredible success of the University of Waterloo co-op program offers some valuable lessons; both in how universities can use similar programs to attract more employers (and therefore more students) to their campus, as well as how employers can better take advantage of co-ops to find the right talent for their office and team.

Why universities need to be growing their co-op programs.

Waterloo has become a top destination for students and employers for a number of reasons, but the biggest is their co-op program. It is different from any other co-op program because the university went all in and made it a centerpiece of their brand, promotional materials, student newsletters, and a major reason to attend the school.

With students keenly aware of job prospects after graduation and universities often struggling to define their role in the student employment process, the co-op is the perfect intersection of education and employment that makes sense for universities to invest in.

Universities will never be able to build job boards as well as new technology companies can, nor should they – those resources are free and available to students. However, a co-op program is a unique educational experience that helps students better tackle their studies and grow. For example, the average student who graduates from Waterloo and participates in the Co-Op gets to test drive multiple careers, develop a professional network and earns on average 15% more then non-co-op students (not to mention the average co-op participant earns over $25,000, to help pay for their education!). Over 4,500 employers participate in the school’s co-op program, which is 1,000 more than the nearest competitior.

This type of resource is invaluable for students, and while it is exciting to see campuses like Pitt explore expanding their co-op programs, no other school currently comes close to Waterloo, which should make it the model for any university who cares about their students’ post graduation employment opportunities.

Professionally trained talent is a win for employers.

If you hire engineers and aren’t recruiting at Waterloo already, you are missing out.  There is a reason that recruiting at the University of Waterloo has become a must do for growing tech companies — these students start their internships ready to hit the ground running.

Meanwhile, if you are hiring students for other roles, co-ops are a fantastic option to explore. The vast majority of employers we speak to, say that cultural fit, professional skills, and attitude outweigh most other criteria when determining the success of their student hires. Skills can be trained, but attitude cannot.

With that in mind co-ops are a unique opportunity, where you can hire students that are directly seeking professional experience, are endorsed by their school, and are typically given pre-internship training to ensure they are prepared for office life.   Here is a list of every school that is part of the WACE co-op network in the US.  While no US university comes close to comparing to Waterloo’s co-op program, Cornell, Drexel, Berea, Elon and George Washington  usually rank at the top of the US News annual report on co-op programs and their are money schools that are worth building relationships with and recruiting at explicitly due to their co-op program.

(Image found from the Live In Know blog here: http://www.liveinkw.ca/education/university-waterloo-graduates.html)

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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.