As 2023 creeps around the corner, businesses face one of their toughest challenges yet: recruiting skilled talent. A recent Canadian Survey of Business Conditions from Stats Canada found that recruiting skilled employees is expected to be an obstacle over the next three months.
Labour shortages in the tech industry have been an ongoing challenge — but at Knak, we’ve found a way to build our talent pool from the ground up. How? By leveraging a well-established (but under-utilized) market to stock our talent pipeline: students.
Enterprise organizations often have significant numbers of co-op students, but start-ups and small-to-medium businesses tend to overlook their value. At Knak, we’ve seen the benefits of tapping into university and college co-op programs. Canada is one of the most educated countries in the world, with nearly six in ten adults holding a degree or diploma in 2021, and there is an incredible amount of young talent out there.
But before venturing into the world of hiring students, there are a few considerations. At Knak, we’ve found success by focusing on the following five strategies.
Get Rid of Busy Work
First, think about what type of work the co-op students will perform and what problem you want to solve. The goal should be to include the students in actual, meaningful work. It sounds straightforward, but assigning students menial work or make-work projects adds little to no value to the company or the individuals.
When welcoming students into our organizations, the goal should be for them to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work and see their contributions’ impact on the company. Integrate students into your organizational deliverables and assign work that will have a real impact, such as writing code for a website or working on customer-facing campaigns.
Foster Corporate Culture for Co-Ops
Next, workplaces must integrate co-op students into the company’s culture. To engage your newest and youngest team members, include them from day one. By pairing co-op students with permanent new hires and giving them the same onboarding experience, there will be less of a ‘class’ divide and more opportunities to foster a genuine connection. Talent teams should make sure co-ops are included in corporate activities throughout their time with the organization. This means involving them in the same events, social gatherings, and team-building activities as new hires.
At Knak, we’ve also explored a system where students are paired with a ‘buddy’ in their department to encourage peer-to-peer coaching. And while this is important, it’s also beneficial to encourage co-op students to spend time with other departments to help them to see the ‘big picture’ of how the business operates.
Expand Beyond Your Home Turf
In today’s remote working world, there’s no need for your co-op program to be constrained by your office’s geographical boundaries. To create a diverse pool of talent, look to expand your co-op program to a wider region beyond your physical office. This is also a great way to develop your employer brand for businesses that are poised for growth, making it global and more well-recognized.
Think Outside of the Box
Another important consideration when hiring students is the pool of candidates you want to develop. For example, if you work at a software company, your first instinct when recruiting co-op students is likely to focus on hiring software developers. However, as your business grows, your entire team will need to expand rapidly to meet its needs.
This is where employers can utilize co-op students to build their talent pipelines. Expanding your recruiting strategies into multiple departments will help develop your talent pipeline for entry-level hiring on a broader scale. It can also ease some growing pains of hiring in a competitive talent market during an expansion.
Integrate Student Feedback
As your co-op program comes to a close, HR leaders should perform an exit interview with outgoing students to gather feedback on their time at the organization, just as they would with any other employee. Not only can their feedback help to improve the co-op program for future students, but it can also be a way to gauge your employer brand and performance for permanent hires.
This benefits both parties, as regular one-on-ones and performance reviews allow you to provide students with feedback for their personal growth. Having a formal process to collect this data and open communication between all teams involved will help your business make the experience even better in the future.
Tech businesses have a prime opportunity to capitalize on this high-quality, highly-educated workforce by investing in Canadian students before they graduate. Employers that make co-op students part of their hiring strategy are not only doing their part to develop the next generation of our workforce, but they’re also helping these students find their groove.
By aligning your recruitment strategy with your long-term goals and integrating students into your company’s work, it’s possible to bolster your talent acquisition process while empowering the next wave of tech talent.
Zak Michalyshyn is the Talent Acquisition Lead at Knak. He has been hiring tech talent globally for the better part of a decade. He loves geeking out over recruitment, scaling your teams and start-ups alike.