Governor Rick Snyder has declared February “Cooperative Education and Internship Month,” in Michigan. In making the proclamation, Snyder called co-ops and internships “critical tools to retaining bright, young talent in Michigan as they help students gain competitive occupations skills by linking career instruction with supervised training and experience on the job.”
Snyder’s endorsement of co-ops and internships comes as no surprise to Michigan Technological University students who, in Snyder’s words, “gain necessary skills that enable an easier transition from school to the workplace” in large numbers.
Stephen Patchin, director of Career Services at Michigan Tech, says students as well as companies understand the importance of cooperative education. “At this point we have 215 recruiting organizations committed to our Spring Career Fair,” Patchin says. “In addition to 156 committed to recruiting full-time positions, 143 are looking for interns and 67 are looking for co-ops. Companies are definitely here to fill their summer needs.”
Patchin adds they’re willing to pay to see those needs met. “Since 2008, we’ve seen the average hourly wage for our graduate student co-ops stay fairly stable in the $23 to $25 per hour range,” he says. “But the real wage growth during that period has been with our undergrad co-ops who have gone from making an average salary of $15.16 an hour in 2008 to averaging $18.99 an hour in 2016.”
According to Patchin, in addition to the income and experience internships and co-ops provide students, they are important to the University in other ways as well.
“The best promoter of the quality of our current students and graduates is their performance ‘on the job’ in these co-op/internship opportunities,” he explains.
Patchin says the big reason companies approach Career Services to recruit at Michigan Tech is because of past performance. “They tell us they have had one of our students or graduates on their corporate team, and they want more just like them.”
Many corporations find employees who began as co-ops or interns become more desirable full-time employees. Patchin says that fact became clear at the recent International Auto Show in Detroit when he attended an event hosted by DENSO, the second largest auto supplier in the world. DENSO was looking to attract more students from Michigan Tech and similar institutions.
“DENSO has found they convert between 80 to 85 percent of their co-ops to successful, full-time employees,” Patchin says. “They also retain these employees much longer than those recruited the traditional way, through career fairs, online job postings and using placement firms.”
" I would recommend a co-op to fellow students."
Patchin says DENSO has found their co-op experiences enable them to identify and develop desired skills in their interns and co-ops, a process that serves as an early onboarding process for these future employees.
Co-ops offer both employers and students a form of mutualism, a relationship in which both sides certainly benefit.
Sarah Jo Martens agrees. She is a third-year environmental engineering major from Hortonville, Wisconsin. Last fall she did an environmental engineering co-op with Expera Specialty Solutions in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
“Expera is a specialty paper production facility for grease-proof and coated papers for industries such as commercial bakery products, medical packaging, and food packaging” Martens says.
“With the environmental department, I worked primarily on a large regulatory compliance demonstration project that included construction, instrumentation, testing and reporting to meet updated EPA regulations for the coal fired power plant on site.”
Martens, who is in the Pavlis Honors College, calls her co-op “most certainly a positive experience.”
“It had its ups and downs, just like any job would have, and a steep learning curve. But the experience I was able to get in such a short time was well worth it.”
Martens says the co-op gave her the opportunity to work on projects she never thought she’d see as a college student. Not only did she get “real world” job experience, the co-op proved beneficial once she returned to campus.
“For my degree, many of the classes primarily focus on water treatment and principles, whereas my experience while on co-op showed me how vital it is to have a well-rounded knowledge, especially in air quality and regulations for industry,” she says. “For that reason, and many others, I would recommend a co-op to fellow students.”
The opportunity to be a part of real-world projects and see first-hand the impact of what is taught in the classroom was “extremely beneficial to solidify the theories I had previously learned,” she goes on to say.
Patchin says this month’s Spring Career Fair and the upcoming fall event are important recruiting tools, but they aren’t the only tools, for students seeking employment and the companies looking to employ them.
One important tool is Handshake, the web application developed by a trio of Michigan Tech students who were frustrated over the difficulty of getting in the door at top tech companies.
Today, Handshake, now based in San Francisco, is a team of more than 40 employees partnering with upwards of 170 universities, making it easier for 120,000 companies to recruit well beyond their traditional core schools. Handshake has increased the opportunities for 3,500,000 students to get good co-ops, internships and jobs leading to meaningful careers.
While pairing students with co-op and intern opportunities is a year-round endeavor, according to Patchin, the month-long designation by the governor is significant.
“Co-ops and internships are important to Governor Snyder,” Patchin says, “because, like the DENSO model, they lead to job opportunities. It is an early connection between talent and corporate needs. These opportunities can begin as early as high school and be available all the way through the educational pipeline ending with doctoral programs.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.