Co-op programs are key to students’ career success

In late April, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported promising job projections for recent college graduates: Employers are expecting a 5 percent increase in college hiring. After graduation, and even during the semesters leading up to it, seniors scramble to apply to as many entry-level positions as possible, especially if they do not plan to pursue graduate school.

Actively applying for jobs and holding a bachelor’s degree are necessary for graduates entering the job market, but reports released by the Wall Street Journal and PayScale suggest that students are not prepared enough for the workforce and are lacking in the basic soft skills, such as writing and critical thinking, that employers seek. Although USC stresses the importance of a well-rounded education and internship experience before graduation, the University should create programs to ensure each student is fully prepared for the workforce in terms of both skills and professional experience. USC should follow universities like Bradley University and Belmont University, which have co-operative education programs (co-ops) that integrate students into a specific career field, allowing them to gain a full-time work experience while acquiring the soft and hard skills that are needed in their industry.

The Wall Street Journal’s analysis revealed that there were a surprising number of students who lacked critical thinking skills. Katie Bardaro, vice president of data analytics at PayScale, also described a skill gap between working professionals and young college graduates described by hiring managers, which hinders students’ abilities to secure jobs in specific industries. The creation of a co-op program at USC or, similarly, a fostered encouragement for students to take on co-ops, would provide a valuable learning opportunity for students to pursue their future careers early on and discover the ins and outs of the industry in which they would work in. A co-op grants students hands-on work experience, which would reduce the skills gap reported by many hiring managers and upper-management toward college graduates.

Many companies from a variety of different fields hire interns year-round, but the most competitive season is summer since all students are off from school. A developed co-op program would encourage students to take on an internship in either the fall or the spring when the application pool is less competitive, while also helping students rearrange their course schedule so they won’t fall behind. Currently, USC does not have any resources that would allow for students to pursue a co-operative work experience. Instead, students  are left with the option to take a leave of absence. Although there are classes that allow students to earn academic credits for their internships, there are no programs that encourage an integrated full-time experience that is markedly different from the work of a part-time intern.

The co-op experience would also help students determine their fit for a certain career path, which will ultimately help in their post-graduation job search and provide them with industry networks and a general direction for their future. The Las Vegas Sun reports that millennials are shifting their focus toward happiness in comparison to money in their job hunt.

“Sometimes finding what will become your fulfilling career is a process of discovery and elimination,” said John Napolitano, CEO of U.S. Wealth Management, in an interview with Las Vegas Sun. “[But] if you never love what you do, you’ll rarely find financial success.”

As graduates’ mindsets shift toward discovering a fulfilling career in addition to monetary value, universities should encourage students to dip their toes in working within specific industries of their interest. A co-op experience grants students the perspective of working as a full-time candidate in their desired field, which greatly differs from the work of summer interns, who are often treated differently than employees. Students would be able to discover if their skills sets and personalities, fit with the job. They would gain the opportunity to understand the inner workings of a company’s culture while working alongside real professionals  in a work setting.

Although USC has created an extensive career center, with resources and career portals for each specialized school, the University should strive to do more to prepare its students for full-time employment. Having internship experience and alumni connections are important, but a co-operative education experience is an opportunity not brought to the attention of enough undergraduate students. The job market for the Class of 2017 is projected to improve; however, the future remains uncertain for the years to come. In April, Bloomberg reported that 44 percent of graduates were employed in fields that do not require a college degree in the final semester of 2016. USC must take responsibility and devote its resources to ensure that its students receive proper educational and technical training to prepare them for the workforce and the fluctuating availability of jobs. Regardless of the job market, a co-op program is an experience that would provide students insight into their prospective industry and allow them to proactively plan their desired career path.