The Idea Dude


Monday, March 14, 2011

How Co-op Programs Can be a Win-Win

In January we took a huge leap of faith and employed 6 co-op students. Half the motivation was we had too much to do and very little budget to do it. But the overwhelming reason for doing it was I had heard so many horror stories about what co-op students (especially first year students) actually did for their employers.

Co-op work terms are meant for students to get real-world exposure of what they could expect when they graduate. Often their experience ends up being menial jobs like testing, making coffee, filling in forms and other mindless, boring tasks. The reason is twofold, either the employer sees this as an opportunity for really cheap labor but often it is because they are so busy, they have very little time to plan or train what these students should be doing when they arrive.

What it really boils down to is a waste of a pool of highly intelligent individuals in too many circumstances. At Play Dynamics, we have a philosophy that the more we give to the system, the more we will get back. We believed that we could take a group of really smart individuals and despite their lack of experience, they could contribute meaningfully to our cause. In return, they would receive the best work experience possible, something that they would be proud to put on their resumes and help them in their studies and in finding other jobs in the future.

The recipe is so simple.
1) Respect. They are inexpensive because they are co-ops but they are also smart. Treat them like peers, not second class citizens.
2) Train. The fact that they are inexpensive means you can afford to spend time training and mentoring them. You'll be amazed how fast they can be once you take the time to show them how.
3) Culture. Use the opportunity to teach them not just the technical aspects of the business but give back to the system by teaching them about business, marketing, sales and decision making. Most can be done as informal 5 min chats. They are like sponges waiting to absorb everything you have.
4) Motivate. Show them how much you love what you do and they will eagerly follow. Energy is infectious.
5) Challenge. Breed the culture of never giving up, inspiring and helping others, being curious and thinking of what is possible instead of lamenting the impossible.

The results can be amazing.
1) They will give back everything you give them and more.
2) They will tell their colleagues and friends about you making it easier to get the next batch of students.
3) They are an inexpensive way of buying you time, to do the things you don't or never had the time to do.
4) The best of all, you leave every day knowing that you can give back to the system that will one day benefit everyone. And maybe, just maybe one of them may turn out to be the next software billionaire or the Nobel prize winner.

At Play Dynamics, our students love coming to work, because they come to play. Play is work and work is play. Play is learning and while they learn, they do the tasks that we need to run the business. In 6 weeks, they have learnt to configure Apache servers, write PHP code, create SQL database, program iPhones, research tough technical issues. Most probably they have already done more in that time than many other co-ops in two terms or more. And during that time, they have helped us achieve stuff we simply have no time to do.

Win-win is possible, if we only took time to invest because that investment buys us time.


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