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College-Employer Co-operative Education

“As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.” Daniel 1:17a

“And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” Acts 7:22

We have a labor shortage in key areas of our businesses, so we need to get creative. We are also approaching education in the most disastrous way, and we have all the tools in our hands to fix it for the future generation. Students leave their colleges and universities with massive debt, no resume experience, deficits in professional protocols, and often questions about whether they chose the right field of study.

Imagine instead: Employers have a constant stream of eager, trained employees that they can test on a temporary and rotating basis. Also, a student leaves their degree with 2 years of experience in their field, zero debt, enough money to buy a car, and often a few job offers from former employers. We have had this concept since at least the 1960’s, but it is sadly absent from most of the US. I graduated from one of the sentinel schools in Canada that offers Co-op education, the University of Waterloo. UW’s innovative approach to education is worth a visit to the campus to witness.

Here’s how Co-op Education works:

The Schedule. Students start in school for at least 4 months, then begin alternating between school and work for 4.67 years, including summers. They receive a 4-year degree and 2 years of work experience. It does require frequent moving if opportunities are not available in the region, but they graduate with a strong learning work style and an appetite for innovation.

Co-operatives with Employers. The school creates partnerships with employers in that field, not only in their geographic area, but across the country, and even overseas. Often the hiring managers are alumni or family members who value the program’s impact from first-hand experience. They have work that can be done by a semi-trained engineer, lab technician, graphic designer, or environmental studies major, on a 4 to 8-month term. What hiring managers need to do to have a steady stream of skilled staff is send in a job posting where they will receive dozens of applications, and interview at one location

Students Learn Exponentially Faster. As a Co-op student myself, I learned biology theory for only 4 months of school before I entered a lab and greenhouse to study different kinds of agricultural sciences – CO2 cold storage of fruit, vegetables and trees, and ambient light effects on Easter lilies and cut flowers. You can’t imagine the fulfillment of returning to class, having seen first-hand how practical applications of theory are changing lives and helping the world. Not to mention the paycheck that funds the next semester.

What it Takes. Employers can reach out to local colleges to start asking for constant interns. Universities need to start with a small group of warriors who go out and find opportunities for students. Pick one field of study, where you have employer connections and students who are interested. Set up the job posting and interviewing system in a strong Applicant Tracking System. Provide students with the easiest possible way of job seeking while they are studying. Have advisors ready to work out the issues. Beta test the program. Then expand into other fields.

The Biblical Basis. Elijah was exhausted from the stress of a prophet’s work, and wanted to give up. He told God, “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (I Kings 19:4b). God sent him an apprentice to encourage him. “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.  Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah.” I Kings 19:19-20a, 21b

The Fruit. The blessings abound when we partner together. Imagine: Jenny left her degree with three job offers from her former co-op employers. Dan realized in his first year that he needed to change studies and found the right degree. Brianna paid for her degree through remote work experience that gave her medical accommodations for her disability. Felicity chose to employ 4 Co-op students at her workplace when she graduated. William filled 8 job openings with a steady stream of Co-op students and now leads the Recruiting team.

What are your next steps to providing great education, and finding a new source of candidates?

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