Below is some information that you may find helpful going forward in the selection and employment process.
Generally, the first worry for co-op students is housing. Any assistance an employer can provide to calm student fears is greatly appreciated. Subscribing a student to the local newspaper for a few weeks, sending the students appropriate web sites for apartment rental, providing a list of employees willing to rent rooms in their homes to co-op students, and providing a list of local areas that are safe, affordable, etc., is extremely helpful to the student’s understanding of securing housing.
A mentor (usually not the student’s supervisor) can be assigned to help the student with non-work related items like helping the student find a place to live or introducing students to extracurricular activities in the new environment. Students are often lonesome for family and friends at first and having an occasional lunch or meeting with a mentor aids in the transition from school to work. A mentor may also be instrumental in helping students learn their way around a new town or city.
It is important to keep in mind that most co-op students have never worked in a professional engineering environment. For this reason, a student needs to be informed of what is expected when working within your organization. An orientation to the organization and introductions to employees the student will be working with, will help with the transition to the new environment. Some of the information a student needs to receive upon arriving at the work location includes: what time work begins and ends; policy on flex time and how it works, parking, the chain of reporting in case of illness; etc., the dress code, how to use the telephone, computer, etc. It is also helpful for students to be aware if there will be an orientation to the work place and if safety training will be offered. Students need to know that, even though they are not permanent employees, they are subject to all the rules and regulations of permanent employees and can be dismissed for breach of company policies.
Time should be set aside for students to complete any paperwork necessary to put them on the payroll and provide them with any benefits they will receive. It is important for students to clearly understand all aspects of your program. For instance, they may be hired at an hourly rate with no benefits but will (or will not) be paid for holidays when the organization is closed.
After the student and supervisor have their initial meeting, the supervisor should visit our website and review our calendar to identify important dates for submitting required paperwork to UT.
At the end of each work term, students and supervisors are required to complete final reports. Submit these reports electronically to the Engineering Professional practice program so that we can evaluate the appropriateness and quality of the work assignment. Often your evaluation will influence scholarships awarded to students, honors selection, and accreditation reviews of UT’s academic programs.
It is extremely important to review your comments with the student so the student will have an understanding of what assignments were completed well and what areas are in need of improvement. If you wish, an advisor will call you to discuss the student’s on-the-job behavior with you. The information that you submit will become part of the student’s permanent record at UT. Your organization’s evaluation form can be substituted for the Engineering Professional Practice form, provided it uses similar criteria.
Providing Challenging, Educationally Relevant Assignments
Generally, student assignments that are carefully developed yield great success. After the successful completion of simple tasks, subsequent tasks should be more responsible and challenging. In many cases, co-op assignments afford students a head start on schoolwork while they are working. For instance, a student could work in the area of heat transfer two semesters before taking a class on heat transfer at UT. This adds relevance to the student’s education, helps the student improve his/her grade point average, and can change the dynamics of the classroom.
As soon as possible after selecting which student(s) you want to hire, an offer should be made. The initial offer can be made verbally but a written offer should follow immediately. Our office must be notified of students to whom you are extending offers. We can then confirm that the candidate is still available, and also update our reporting to include accurate data on offers being made by your organization.
The letter of confirmation should include information such as starting date, ending date, number of work terms, and when they occur (summer, spring, fall), starting salary, any benefits that will be extended, and to which department or division the student will be assigned. We offer a sample offer letter that will help you in this process. Offer letters can be e-mailed to the student and to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Within three business days of extending your offer to the student(s) of your choice, you will receive, in writing, an acceptance or declination of your offer. Our office understands the value of time and wants to maximize your efforts by letting you know as expeditiously as possible who will be joining you.
You are under no obligation to extend an offer to any student. However, the courtesy of notifying those to whom you will not be extending an offer is greatly appreciated and allows them the opportunity to move on with their co-op job search. Keep in mind that there may be times when our office may not have a match for your employment needs. And, by the same token, students are under no obligation to accept any offers from employers.
Before the first co-op student is interviewed to fill a position with your organization, you need to do some careful planning. The first thing that will be needed is a strong commitment from top management. While still in the planning stages, it would be a good idea to decide what the purpose of your co-op program will be (i.e., to have co-op students pick up lesser tasks so your engineers can have ample time for more important projects, etc.). Accompanying the purpose should be a set of standards by which the program will operate: written job descriptions for each major you will be seeking, plans for the administration of the program, how, when, what criteria will be used to evaluate your program, and what the employment status of a co-op student will be (i.e., exempt, nonexempt, part of the head count, etc.).
A co-op student might seem like a short term commitment but, in order to fill one co-op position continuously, the position must be included in your long range planning. There must be a budget to pay the salary of the co-op student(s) as well as those administering your program, a place to work must be provided, and any tools that would be important for a co-op student to be a viable, contributing member of your team.
For any co-op program to thrive, someone needs to be appointed to handle the details. The administrator is someone who is clearly identified as the contact person. This is the person a school, a student, and a supervisor would work with to make a co-op program successful. This person, and any additional personnel, need to have a strong sense of ownership and accountability. They need to be responsive to inquiries from all parties as well as review the program periodically and seek to implement future improvements.
Supervisors and Mentors
Supervisors and mentors are usually different people with different functions as far as a co-op student’s welfare is concerned. A mentor is a key person to help a student get settled into a co-op position. This person assists the student with questions and issues not directly related to the student’s work assignment, i.e., suggestions for an oral presentation at a meeting. The mentor could help the student compose a state-of-the-art presentation and critique the student’s delivery in order to help the student with stage presence. The mentor would not change the presentation’s contents but give the student tips to help polish the delivery.
The supervisor, on the other hand, would assume direct responsibility for the student’s work performance. This person would be responsible for introducing the student to the workplace and providing instruction on the methods used and why they are used as well as evaluating the student capabilities and providing feedback and encouragement. Supervisors must be carefully selected for their patience, honesty and ability to act with authority in guiding co-op students. Successful supervisors will take time from their own tasks to instruct the student to be a successful contributor within the employing organization, to correct the student when there is a problem and offer remedial suggestions, and to assist the student in his/her professional progress.
A job description must be related to one of the curricula being taught in the Tickle College of Engineering at UT. It should also be flexible to allow a student to explore interests and aptitudes in order to obtain career direction and goals. A well-written job description could be the determining factor in a student being retained by the employer after graduation. The quality of the position is exemplified by the student’s enthusiasm, high productivity, and high quality of work. Written into each job should be terms of evaluation for student performance and documentation of work as well as input from both the mentor and the student. An exit interview should be included as a means of input to both the employer and student and to bring closure to one segment of the student’s education.
At UT, students are available year round to interview for future co-op openings. However, an excellent source of co-op students is at the Engineering Fair held every year, shortly after school convenes in the fall. For an employer to be sure of hiring a well-qualified student, all co-op students should be chosen from schools with an established co-op program. At UT, co-op engineering students complete paperwork and sign agreements stating that they understand the expectations of the Co-op Engineering Program. Interview students to assess their qualifications and make offers as soon as possible. A student visit to the work location could also be helpful as care should be taken to not hire over- or under-qualified students.
As soon as the student is at the employer premises, an orientation should be completed. Expectations of the student, standards, schedules, evaluations, policies and procedures, payroll and benefits, and safety in the workplace should be covered. Other topics should also be made clear to students, such as if there is overtime work, overtime pay, or shift work and who approves such things. Students need to know where to turn if they encounter problems they cannot resolve. Students need to be toured through a facility and told how to get to their workplaces as well as introduced to their supervisors and anyone else on the work team. Students must be told who will answer questions about their work and who will conduct a review of their work assignments. It is important for students to feel enthusiastic about their new surroundings and experience a rapid transition to become part of the group.
Students need to be informed as to how they are doing and where they stand periodically. The Engineering Professional Practice program has two reporting periods: shortly after the student arrives at work (the supervisor and the student should have a face-to-face meeting to discuss what is expected of the student during the work term) and at the conclusion of the assignment for a final review.
Download our Supervisor Evaluation Form to report back to UT. Employers usually have an informal mid-term (or end of task) review, which is a good time for a supervisor to measure progress against established standards. Evaluations can be used as a basis for future assignments and discussion of career goals. At the end of each work term, the supervisor completes an evaluation of the student’s work performance and the student completes a two-part work report. Both should be submitted electronically to email@example.com where the information becomes part of the student’s permanent record. Major accomplishments should be highlighted and communicated to management and to program personnel. The end of term evaluation should be discussed with the student in an exit interview. It would not be unusual for program personnel to review these reports with the student as well.
Benefits and Other Perks
Employer benefits have a direct impact on the student, thus foster greater consideration from students. Following are some benefits that participating employers may offer our students:
- Relocation or mileage reimbursement or allowance
- Assistance in obtaining housing
- Paid sick leave
- Holiday pay
- Group insurance and associated costs
- Eligibile to use the Credit Union, recreational and health facilities, etc.
- Eligible for bonuses and/or other recognition of contributions
- Included in profit sharing
- Safety equipment (ear and eye protection, steel-toed shoes, etc.)
- Permission to attend in-house courses
- Included in special company-wide offers
Since students talk to each other and compare salaries and benefits offered by their co-op employers, there is a natural attraction to the employer with the best salary and benefits package. If it becomes difficult to attract quality co-op students, surveying competitors’ benefits packages could be valuable when putting a package in place for your own students.
Some employers, especially larger ones, have extracurricular activities for co-op students. These include:
- Tours of plant sites and operations
- Luncheon program series (Meet the CEO, etc.)
- Community service projects
- Internal cost-savings programs
- Oral presentations by co-op students to supervisors and others
- Seminar, workshop and training programs
- Sporting events (softball, volleyball, etc.)
- Social events (cook-outs, parties, etc.)
- Performance recognition events (certificates, bonuses, tangible awards)
These types of events make a student feel more like part of the organization and endear the student to the employer.
From the time an offer is extended to a co-op engineering student, three business days are allowed for students to consider the offer and decide if they will accept or decline it. This time becomes especially important if the employer has prioritized students in an order to receive offers. There is very little abuse of this policy. Informing our office of offers helps us keep the process moving along so you will not have to wait very long to find out who will be joining you. Your support of our “three day” policy is of the utmost importance.
After a student has accepted an offer with your company, he or she will send you a letter of confirmation for your records. Once a student has sent you a letter of confirmation, that student is obligated to fulfill his or her duty to your company. Our program is set up in such a way that students are not permitted to accept an offer from one company and then accept an offer from another. Students must fulfill their original employment acceptance unless there are extenuating circumstances.
When a student accepts a co-op position, it is with the intent to complete multiple work terms with the same employer. In fact, students sign a co-op agreement to that effect when they first register to participate in the program. At the same time, the employer makes a commitment to employ the student for multiple work semesters that will span a year and a half beginning at the start of the first work term. There are two good reasons for this commitment to be made by both parties:
- Continuity in the work place is necessary for students to be assigned more challenging subsequent assignments with increased responsibility, and
- Employers invest considerable money and energy into training students to be productive employees and should see a return on their investments. Workplace continuity does not mean that a student cannot move within the organization.
Depending on how your company’s co-op program is structured, students could spend one work term with three different supervisors. This happens often with larger employers that want a student to see as much of the company as possible. These employers look at our co-op program as a recruiting tool, investing time and effort into training the student to be a productive member of their organization. They feel that students need to see a large sampling of the company in order to accept a permanent position.
There will be instances when a student will not continue with the organization. When it becomes apparent that a student will not remain with you, you should contact both the student and our office in a timely fashion so arrangements can be made to address this issue. The earlier this is done, the better it is for all parties.
Engineering Professional Practice staff do not select students for employers. In order for you to employ a student, you must put in place the method (or methods) of selection that are best for you. The following are some of the most common ways to begin your selection:
This is the first step in the selection process and you will likely want to follow up with one of the other activities listed below. The Engineering Professional Practice program will discuss your position(s) with qualified students based on availability. After a short period of time, the paperwork of students who have responded and expressed an interest in your position(s) will be forwarded to you for your review.
At the point where you have identified one or more candidates you feel could be a match for each open co-op position, you may want to conduct telephone interviews with those students. You should feel free to contact students directly. If you experience difficulty reaching students, the Engineering Professional Practice program will contact the students for you and advise you of the best times to reach the student. Upon completion of interviews, notification of an offer or rejection should be directed to the student with a copy to our office.
One of the best ways to select students is to visit UT and participate in formal interviews with the candidates. Call the Engineering Professional Practice program allowing as much advance notice as possible to set up a mutually acceptable date for your visit along with any details, i.e., interview day start time, finish time, length of interview, etc. After an announcement is made to students, a Co-op advisor will screen students, set up your interview schedule, and contact you with the details.
A site visit will be the most valuable to you in making the decision on hiring. An invitation to selected candidate(s) to visit the work location for a tour of the facility, introductions to key people and, perhaps, additional interviews will provide insight on how the student would perform if hired. The student’s reactions to the facility and other employees could help make the decision on who is the best candidate for the job. Likewise, a site visit provides students with a look at the work setting and a better idea of what would be expected of them as employees. Keep in mind that students have a heavy course schedule and it may not be easy to miss classes for a day. Try to schedule site visits on days when school is not in session or during holidays. These dates are included in this academic calendar.
When a co-op program is initiated, a partnership is formed. It is of the utmost importance that all partners keep each other informed of any issues or irregularities that are related to the student’s participation in the co-op program at your organization.
On rare occasions a student’s grades may fall below the minimum set by the employing organization. Also, occasionally, students will discover that they have chosen the wrong major. Several actions can be taken to address student issues, but all parties must be aware of the process to resolve the issue. In any instance, after discussions with the student, the employer and the Engineering Professional Practice program there may be an agreement to terminate the student from the employer’s co-op program or the employer may want to continue the student on a probationary basis.
It is imperative to remember to keep the lines of communication open for everyone involved. All decisions should be discussed openly and decided upon collectively so that everyone understands and agrees on the action that will be taken.
The Supervisor Evaluation Form should be completed by the student’s immediate supervisor and discussed with the student prior to his/her returning to school. The evalutions are used to enhance the student’s education experience. Feel free to contact our office if you have any problems or questions.