Why You Need a Co-op Program

Hootsuite Co-ops

The Story of Ira Needles

When Ira G. Needles arrived in the Waterloo region in 1925 to take a job as assistant sales manager at B.F. Goodrich, he hid the fact that he was university educated. At the time, the business world considered it “snooty” to have a higher education.

His education didn’t hurt him, however, and Needles gradually rose within the ranks of the tire giant, and by 1951 he was appointed president of B.F. Goodrich Canada.

However, in the summer of 1956, Needles’ two separate worlds – industry and academia – would finally come together in a radical speech he made to the Rotary Club of Kitchener-Waterloo. Needles’ speech would ultimately transform the nature of education in Canada.

During the talk, entitled “WANTED: 150,000 Engineers – The Waterloo Plan,” Needles presented a new kind of education that would involve studies in the classroom as well as training in industry.

Courtesy of the University of Waterloo public library file on Ira Needles

Thank Goodness for Ira

Needles and two others would then go on to found the future University of Waterloo (first known as the Waterloo College Associate Faculties) in 1957 and admit the first 75 students, all of whom were also co-ops. Sixty years later, roughly 80,000 students in Canada enroll in co-operative education each year.

A co-op program has, in my mind, no downside for students, employers, or the institutions that support it. Students apply their learning, test-drive life in industry, fund their education, and return to their studies to challenge some of the theoretical principles based on this experience. Employees, like us, get an opportunity to cement our own knowledge by teaching students and at the same time build a pipeline of young, bright talent. Lastly, demand for an academic institution’s programs grow as the demand for their graduating students grows.

How Do You Measure the Success of a Co-op Program? Our co-op program started in 2012 with one co-op from one university. Last year, our program welcomed 35 students from 11 different post-secondary institutions. This year we’ll move that number up again – in January we welcomed nine new students (in addition to 4 who extended their last term). In all, 70 co-op students have participated in our program so far.

Year Co-ops Cumulative
2012 1 1
2013 7 8
2014 17 25
2015 35 60
2016 (Term 1) 10 70
I use four measures to give me a reading on our program:

1. ENPS

Every term* we ask our co-ops to answer an Employee Net Promoter Score (ENPS) survey with two questions: On a scale of 0 – 10, how likely are you to recommend Hootsuite to a co-op student? and Help me understand your number. I ask the second question because it provides context. The survey is anonymous and practical. It sets a baseline for relative comparison term-over-term about our program: Does our program meet the expectations set by (a) our co-op recruiting material (b) word-of-mouth from previous and current co-ops, and (c) the information that we convey to them during their interview?

Starting with ENPS will gives us a benchmark, and importantly, it provides many starting points for a conversation between us and our co-op students. We also run a retrospective with them soon after the survey. This provides them with another outlet to express frustration or suggest improvements, and and gives us clear direction on things we can improve or streamline for the next cohort of students such recruiting, onboarding, team selection, projects, and more.

Why ENPS? It provides a simple measure of intent in a complex system.

* Since Spring 2015. I wish I’d thought to ask this sooner.

2. Community Involvement

The end of a co-op term always comes up quicker than expected. All of our co-ops will have accomplished something amazing, so before they go I ask them to ‘work out loud‘ by sharing those accomplishments and their experience with others.

There are many ways our co-op students do this at Hootsuite: write a blog post, give a talk, speak at a meetup, or sometimes in a video. For them it means they can add a publication to their Linkedin profile, it improves their ability to think and communicate about what they do and love, and it connects them with other people at Hootsuite on technology or something outside project work.

For us as the employer, it can lead to better solutions internally and it is material we use to market our program by showing people what goes on inside our company.

You can read some of those posts here: http://code.hootsuite.com/co-ops/

3. Employment

Of all our co-ops, but not including the 2016 cohort who are currently working with us:

  • 18% of our co-ops continue to work part-time for us after their co-op term.
  • 22% extend their term beyond the original length.
  • 25% of them come back to work with us full-time.
Those numbers will change after our current cohort ends their term, and all our former co-ops complete their education and begin looking for full-time work.

4. Gender Diversity

Why? There are many reasons why some teams outperform others. According to researchers profiled in HBR and New York Times, smarter teams have one thing in common: more women. I particularly like Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk that touches on this subject.

Industry standard for the percentage of women in technical roles, like software development companies with 100+ people in their software development team is 10% according to Lauren Bacon. Our percentage of co-ops who are female is 21%. I asked three of the universities we work with for their percentage of female technical co-ops, two replied with data:

  • University of Victoria: 14% female students actively enrolled in co-ops from the Computer Science, Software Engineering, and Computer Engineering programs”
  • University of Waterloo: the percentage of women entering CS co-op in fall 2015 was 24.2%”
Our percentage of female co-ops is improving and I’d like to keep up that trend. How? Continue to be a positive, collaborative, helpful working environment that our staff love; and stamp out signs of ‘brogramming‘. We can do better by putting them in touch with future co-op students at career fairs and by asking them to conceptualize and trial new ways of sharing their stories.

On our co-op page we highlight the stories of our current female co-op students by promoting their writing in order to showcase those women role models and encourage more women to apply.

Our gender co-op stats over the last four years:

Year # Co-ops # Female % Female
2012 1 0 0%
2013 7 0 0%
2014 17 4 24%
2015 35 7 20%
2016 9 3 33%
*including January 2016 Cohort

Some Other Data

About 5%

In the last two terms, co-ops represented about 5% of the total number of staff within Product Development. The reason this number is small is to give as much attention to our co-ops as possible. In my conversations with our co-ops, learning from a mentor is high up on their wish list.

Beyond Software Development

Of our 34 co-ops to date, 26 joined a software development team to write code (~76%). That’s changing. In 2015, we welcomed our first co-ops in Business Analysis, IT, Security, and UX Design.

Why do you have (or not have) a co-op program and how do you measure it?

ps. If you’re a co-op and would like to work at Hootsuite, read Chris Richardson’s article on How to get a Co-op Job at Hootsuite

Thank you

To Lindsay, Kimli, and Erica for reading early drafts of this post.

About the AuthorNoel Pullen 200x200

Noel focuses on culture, employee engagement, technical community involvement, and training for Hootsuite’s technical groups. He loves to exchange ideas and would like to hear how you do these things at your organization. Get in touch via LinkedIn.