• Eight Tips for Developing an Effective Co-op Program

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals
    December 5, 2012

    In recent years, The Hershey Company has changed its hiring strategy to include more entry-level positions and allow the company to develop its young talent. A key component of this approach to entry-level hiring has been the growth of the company’s co-op program.

    “Having students on site for six months—as opposed to 10 weeks for a traditional internship—gives us the opportunity to better evaluate and train them, and gives students more exposure to the various areas of the company,” says Steve Schmehl, Hershey’s manager, supply planning. “We build a stronger connection with them through the co-op program.”

    But participation in a co-op program can be a tough sell. Often, Schmehl points out, the longer assignment means a student’s graduation date could be pushed back. And Claire Kilbourne, Hershey’s manager of university relations, adds that many schools don’t support co-ops.

    Still, they say the benefits of an effective co-op program outweigh its associated challenges. Hershey makes the following suggestions for overcoming obstacles and maximizing your organization’s co-op program:

    1. Be strategic in your approach—Create a plan that covers everything from crafting your messaging to selecting your recruiting destinations. Think through what you want the program to look like and the results you want to achieve. Conduct research and reach out to key stakeholders internally and externally for information and to share their perspectives. The work you do in the planning stage will be worth the effort.
    2. Choose the right schools at which to recruit—This is an area where the research and outreach you do during your planning will pay off. Find schools that support co-ops for their students. It will help your efforts greatly if career services staff, faculty members, student organizations, and even parents and alumni advocate for participation in co-op programs.
    3. Don’t assume students know what’s required in a co-op—Students often don’t know the difference between an internship and a co-op, and don’t realize the commitment required for a co-op. Hershey educates students about co-ops, details the commitment required, shares success stories, and espouses the opportunity to learn more and to gain greater exposure to the business and its leaders.
    4. Get co-op students involved in recruiting—This year, Hershey took co-op students to campus to talk with other students about the program, which helped with recruiting. Potential co-op participants like to hear their peers share their experience with and answer questions about the company.
    5. Take advantage of the co-op format—During a co-op assignment, students can operate in many areas of the company. Use the time afforded by the program’s expanded format to teach students the terminology of the position, and to use the systems and processes to prepare them for their assigned projects.
    6. Provide clearly defined and meaningful work—Hershey has found success by giving students challenging and “real life” work in areas of key business needs. This not only allows for two-way evaluation between the students and their managers, but also allows students to apply and develop their knowledge and skill sets. Then, if a student earns and accepts an offer of full-time employment, he or she will be prepared to step into the job upon graduation.
    7. Provide ongoing feedback to the students about their performance—It’s important that co-op students know what’s expected of them and get guidance on how to meet their goals. Conversely, you want to make sure your co-op program is meeting your students’ needs. To keep communication flowing, Hershey’s managers conduct performance discussions with co-op participants and, in some cases, the company provides them with mentors throughout their assignment.
    8. Overlap assignments to help with training—In its supply planning group, for example, Hershey has a six-month overlap between groups of co-op students. Kilbourne and Schmehl report that it’s valuable to have existing co-ops help with training and give the incoming group insight about the assignment. The incoming co-ops are very receptive to their peers.

Eight Tips for Developing an Effective Co-op Program