8 Reasons Why Co-op Students Are a Start-Up’s Best Investment

Our Co-op Student Mahek with eleven-x CEO Ryan

Upon opening in 1957, the University of Waterloo became the first post-secondary school in Canada to implement a co-operative education model. It revolutionized the notion of students being equipped for work by virtue of their textbooks alone. These days, no one can question the value of having practical experience interspersed with classroom studies, not to mention the paycheques to put towards those textbooks. Many schools now offer some form of the co-op program, giving companies a rich diversity of students to complement their work force.

A company in the start-up stage may not consider hiring a co-op student, but we would recommend it. In our first year of operations, eleven-x employed an engineering student from Lambton College, recently welcomed a business student from Wilfrid Laurier, and is recruiting from the University of Waterloo for next term. Don’t let your lean corporate stature or more humble workplace setting deter you from recruiting on campus: candidates who want to make an impact will be drawn to start-ups. And here’s why you should consider them a wise investment:

  1. Youthful Perspective. Within a few days of arriving, our Market Research co-op Mahek shared a wealth of ideas from the perspective of a young applicant who would want to know more about the company. She made us stop and identify our values, and she shared her own observations as a newcomer to the team. As a start-up, you will benefit from the fresh take of a student who doesn’t have the same vested interest in your enterprise. Mahek’s feedback was a very positive form of disruption, and she learned to use WordPress to update our Careers web page. Everyone wins!
  2. Good Value. As a start-up, you may not be in a position to commit to a full-time employee. A student will generally be looking for a 4-8 month work term, with a more reasonable salary for your budget. And you may find yourself with a student so productive (and perhaps even so innovative) that it will be more than worth the investment. We believe in offering very competitive salaries to our students, because it demonstrates how much we value their contributions, and that we’re serious about high calibre work.
  3. Career Development for All. Aside from the quantitative work that your student will bring to the table, there are also many qualitative benefits for your full-timers. In a start-up, there are fewer opportunities for climbing the corporate ladder (in the near term, at least), but there are still opportunities for career development. Mentoring a co-op student can be a very enriching experience: conducting interviews, breaking down tasks, setting goals, and performance reviews can add dimension to your staff portfolios and increase their job satisfaction.
  4. Partnerships and Support for Schools. Most universities and colleges strive to reflect what’s going on in the real world, so that they can better equip their students for gainful employment. Furthermore, you can find a lot of innovation happening in the labs on campus, unhampered by deadlines or the changing tides of a corporate strategy. Start-ups and schools share that common goal of seeking “What’s possible? What’s next?” and can often focus on a very precise subject. Employing students and forming bonds with post-secondary schools is a mutually beneficial relationship.
  5. Grooming Your Next Best Full-Timer. There is less room for low-performing or high-maintenance employees in a start-up. Every single person on your team needs to be a rock star. In each co-op student, you have the potential to train a future full-time employee who would already be familiar with your product and your expectations, and have a relationship with the team. Investing in a student now could pay off when you suddenly find yourself with the next big contract, and needing your next rock star.
  6. Training Tomorrow’s Workforce. In the case of eleven-x, our core competencies are wireless and embedded software development. This area of expertise will be increasingly valuable as The Internet of Things introduces billions of wireless devices to the world. But faculties of engineering aren’t teaching to this degree of speciality, and co-op is the only way for us to seed the workforce with these skills. What is your ideal skill set in a new hire? Are these skills being fostered in the classroom setting, or can your start-up raise the bar for your industry by arming future talent with these niche abilities?
  7. Early Emphasis on Culture. Times have changed: gone are the days when there were far more co-op students than co-op jobs. Now students want an experience as much as they want work. And it can be easy to let the bonding moments slip past you when you’ve got your head down to do work. People who like each other, and respect each other, are going to be far happier at work, and how you foster that respect is up to you (and your team!). But there’s nothing like a student – who’s just interviewed with a place that has a nap pod – to encourage a start-up to “protect what’s awesome”, as our HR mentor Jackie Lauer always says.
  8. A Chance to Manage Millennials. Management publications would like you to believe that there is a menacing army of youngsters coming to sabotage your sanity. They will mystify you, as you struggle to motivate and lead them! Solve the mystery yourself by simply hiring a co-op student. There’s no better way to identify what makes a particular generation tick than to interact with that generation, and what better time to do it than when you’re building your company’s foundation? One of our favorite stats at eleven-x is “We have 100 years of combined experience in wireless communications”. But we believe that experience must be complemented by the boundary-pushing next generation, who can learn from the wisdom of industry veterans.

Are you a start-up who employs co-op students? Are you a student who’s worked for a start-up? We’d love to hear about your experience.