Despite growing recession fears, there are nearly 60,000 tech job vacancies in Canada — and finding the right talent can be challenging. Canada is facing a skills shortage crisis, and some Canadian tech companies are leaning into creative solutions, such as co-op programs, to build their talent pool.
Redbrick, a portfolio of disruptive digital companies, is no stranger to the value of co-ops. Since 2011, Redbrick has been hiring co-op students.
We spoke with Emily Hann, People and Culture Manager at Redbrick, to learn more about how the company is responsibly building the next generation of tech talent.
Why should companies consider implementing a co-op program?
EH: Over the last 11 years, we’ve found that co-op programs are a great way to build valuable relationships with employees in the earliest stages of their careers. Companies can gain a competitive edge in this tough labour market by re-hiring former co-op students once they enter the full-time workforce. Better yet, that talent has already been exposed to the organization’s product and business — a ‘win-win’ for both employers and employees.
Often, business leaders view co-op programs as a burden on resources, but there needs to be a perspective shift. There’s a common belief amongst employers that the time spent training and onboarding a student can take away from the team’s productivity, only for the student to leave after a short term. What employers don’t realize is that co-op students can bring great value if they’re assimilated onto the team as if they were full-time employees. The key is implementing a program where the students’ fresh ideas, skills and eagerness are utilized. By assigning projects that bring value to the business instead of menial tasks, companies can benefit significantly from the contributions this early-stage talent offers.
How can organizations ensure co-op students return after they graduate?
EH: Now, more than ever, employees want to work for a company that will invest in their career development and growth. Organizations that allow co-op students to be wholly immersed in the business and treated as full-time employees show that they value their team’s learning, development, and growth. More often than not, this will result in those team members returning for full-time roles after school, marking the start of a long-term and loyal relationship.
What type of corporate cultures are most attractive to young people?
EH: Students early in their careers want to dive in, contribute to an organization’s product or customer experience as soon as they start, and be a part of discussions, meetings, and decisions. A slow and gradual onboarding process for co-op students often results in talent feeling demotivated and isolated from the rest of the team.
An inclusive and fun culture is essential to early-stage talent — especially if this is their first job. Remember what it was like on your very first day? It can be nerve-wracking, especially walking into a top-down and cliquey culture. Co-op employees don’t want to feel siloed or like they’re the ’new kids on the block.’ They want to learn and contribute to the team, and having an inviting culture is crucial to attracting this group (or any group, for that matter). To foster a welcoming culture, bring the team from all levels of the business together for casual interactions and fun, so students have the opportunity to mingle and meet.
Lastly, businesses can also consider supporting staff with incentives that make their lives easier. At Redbrick, we recently launched a Commute to Work Incentive Program. This program supports team members who like to come into the office by lessening the associated costs of commuting. This type of benefit is attractive to new graduates who may be facing student debt and looking to offset some of their expenses.
How can co-op programs help students overcome the barriers they face in finding a job after graduation?
EH: Most companies have work experience requirements for entry-level positions, making it nearly impossible for students to get their foot in the door. A co-op program gives students the exposure, confidence, and professional experience to enter the full-time workforce after school. Co-op terms substantially increase the chances of former students returning to a permanent role with the same employer, allowing them to build their careers directly after graduation.
Dedicating the time and resources to mentoring and supporting students early in their careers is a great way to build long-lasting employment relationships within the Canadian talent pool. Allowing students to learn and work simultaneously is one solution to increasing the number of skilled workers in the workforce, and in this labour market, it’s an invaluable solution.