College cooperative education programs give an advantage to both students and businesses.
While colleges are built on a hearty foundation of expert professors and the most up-to-date of texts, there is only so much that a student can learn within the confines of the classroom. In a competitive job market, sometimes a bachelor’s degree is not enough to push that résumé over the top.
Similarly, businesses are competing in the same market for innovations, technological creations and a reliable workforce. The wealth of potential employees gives businesses many options, but how many of those are the perfect fit?
Bridging the gap between students’ novice experience and the creativity that local employers are searching for are Cooperative Education programs, which are offered locally at Burlington County College, Camden County College and Rowan College at Gloucester County (RCGC, formerly Gloucester County College). These unique programs allow students to gain knowledge in a workplace environment, while also giving employers access to the wealth of creative ideas that these students have.
Roseanne Buckley, director of Career Services at BCC, says that co-op programs run similarly to internships; whereas an internship is sometimes required by a student’s program, a co-op is an opportunity that the student takes on outside of their mandatory classes.
“The programs that see the most co-ops are our engineering, accounting and business programs,” Buckley says. “We currently have 10-15 students registered, but there are students who have co-ops that aren’t receiving credit for them.”
A registered co-op course at BCC costs the student what it would cost for normal credit hours and begins at a minimum of 120 hours. Students receive one-on-one conferences with an advisor who will help them build their résumé, strategize a list of employers based on major, and practice interviewing skills.
“[BCC] has a database of local businesses searching for students, but we also advertise with the chambers of commerce, attend networking events and try reaching out to businesses that advertise on job websites,” Buckley says.
RCGC runs a similar program; however, the students’ performance gets factored into their overall GPA toward credit hours, which are a minimum of 150.
“Because our co-op program affects the students’ GPA rather than just substituting it for a class, that makes it that much more valuable to the student,” says Cooperative Education Director Darlene Berger. “It makes it beneficial to employees as well; knowing that they have a say in the students’ grades encourages students to perform well.”
Students must additionally complete a 15-week, online course in which they learn cover letter and résumé writing, dress, interview skills and business letter writing, which also carries a weight toward their final grade.
One local business participating in RCGC’s co-op program is Signarama, a small business that specializes in creating signs and banners for other businesses, located in Deptford. Co-owner Elaine Fox explains her company has been involved with the program since last fall and currently has two students working in graphic design and accounting.
“Our involvement in the program helps us improve how we train our employees, it helps the students by giving them experience in their fields of interest, and it also gives us a preview of someone we may hire,” she says.
Both Buckley and Berger agree with the notion that co-op experiences are invaluable to both students and employers. “Students are young, lively and full of creativity, and employers are looking for that creative initiative to be the future of their business,” Buckley says.
Other businesses in the area that are connected with co-op programs from BCC and RCGC include Lockheed Martin in Moorestown, along with government offices around the region and, as Berger explains, marketing and advertising companies looking to find a place in social media.
While pursuing knowledge at a secondary school is nothing but beneficial to a student’s education, experience can provide a broader depth of knowledge that some classrooms can’t replicate; it seems that colleges, students and businesses can all agree that these programs are key to successful futures.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 4, Issue 6 (June, 2014).
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