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5 ways to enhance your student program

Internship and co-op programs: they’re career-hatching, eye-opening, and highly sought after.

Students across the country are ready to get cracking with valuable experience under their shells, and employers are looking to harvest their potential.

Wondering how you can attract top Gen Y talent to your student program? Here a few major findings:

Students want…

Meaningful work

Top student candidates want to add value to your organization. They are actively engaged in their academic pursuits and welcome the opportunity to challenge themselves by putting their learning into practice.

Students lack experience, not capacity: encourage your student hires to apply their knowledge with work assignments that build up their skills and in turn, increase your return on investment.

Task-oriented assignments like data entry or fact-checking are a great way for students to demonstrate research skills and attention to detail, and can act as a stepping-stone to more complex work in the future. More involved assignments validate the student experience and provide you with a tangible way to assess their performance. These responsibilities could include: job shadowing, interacting with clients or participating in business meetings.

“Students are capable of performing meaningful work. It’s great when organizations align with that belief.”
-Engineering student, University of Waterloo

Internships that mirror the responsibilities of full-time employment make it easier to transition into the company if your professional goals are aligned long-term.”
-Business student, York University

Students want…

Immersive experiences

Students are motivated by experiential learning opportunities and place a great deal of value on first-hand experience. They want to become well-rounded professionals and are interested in exploring many different aspects of a business.

Rotational programs are attractive to top student talent because they provide students with opportunities to test out a variety of different streams while still contributing to the overall organization.  Comprehensive work experience of this nature can also help students to develop a diversified skill set, identify full-time opportunities to pursue with your organization post-graduation, and can increase your overall candidate retention rates.

 “Rotational activities are a great way to help students understand how to connect with a company and see where they can add the most value.”
-Accounting student, York University

The rotational aspect of a program allows students to understand all areas of a business. It’s a great way to gain diverse experience and make connections across departments.”
-Business student, University of Windsor

Students want…


Students are attracted to work environments where potential is cultivated. They want to deliver great work, be seen as valuable members of the team, and know that you believe in their abilities. They don’t want to be “thrown into the deep end”; rather, students want to be encouraged to learn and grow throughout the duration of their program.

Open communication with their immediate team is an aspect top candidates look for when applying to programs. Establishing communication channels between team members and ensuring that your intern or co-op students understand that they can ask questions, seek advice or counsel from your staff at any time will help to facilitate a supportive atmosphere.

 “Interns want to receive a lot of support from day one, be told to identify their strengths and weaknesses and be shown how to improve on them throughout their work term.”
-Business student, York University

“The main thing students want to see in an internship or co-op program is an opportunity to grow and gain experience, but feeling supported in the work we are doing is just as important.”
-Communications student, University of Guelph-Humber

Students want…

Networking & mentorship

The school-to-work transition can be daunting for many students, so quality networking and mentorship opportunities help ease Gen Y into the professional lifestyle. Working relationships not only help with team-building and informal onboarding, they can also promote active learning, sharing and teaching around the office.

Start organizing opportunities for students to connect with staff members before your internship or co-op program officially starts, as well as throughout the duration of the program. Events can include informal and formal elements and can be executed on a smaller- or wider-scale.

Consider organizing meet-and-greet events, open houses, lunch-and-learns, after work mix-and-mingles or a formal mentorship system.

“Student programs designed to foster leadership and networking skills is commendable, and an excellent strategy for any employer.”
-Engineering student, McMaster University

“The best thing about working at a company is the other people, so ensuring students have the opportunity to network  can really be the difference between a good and amazing work term.”
-Engineering student, University of Waterloo

Students want…

Lasting connections

Gen Y is the most connected generation, both online and off. Students involved in internship or co-op programs want to feel like they’ve made a lasting impact on an organization, and want to maintain a relationship with their employer before, during, and after their tenure.

Creating an intern or co-op alumni network is one way to sustain this feeling. When student hires feel like they are a part of your extended employee family, they are more likely to act as brand ambassadors for your organization within their own networks. You can also use an alumni system to recruit “pre-screened,” qualified talent for future opportunities.

Aspects to include in your alumni network? Monthly alumni e-newsletters, dedicated social media accounts, branded mementos or a discount program.

 “Periodically staying in contact with interns is a great way to show students that they are important to your company even after they have ended their work term.”
-Business student, Wilfrid Laurier University

Some organizations will only follow up once after an internship ends, or right before the student graduates. A program that is formed around the notion of retaining a relationship with your interns the reason why students sign on before and after.”
-Business student, University of Windsor

Discussion: Does your student program incorporate any of these elements?

1 Comment

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