BLOG: The unspoken benefit of a retiring workforce (and why you need to act now)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Student on a co-op work term

It’s happening – the baby boomers are wrapping up their careers and HR leaders like you are scrambling to fill the void. As the existing workforce advances up the corporate ladder to fill those positions, you may be wondering how to find the skilled talent necessary to keep up with the level of innovation and advancement that defines industry today.

Are you worried? You shouldn't be – this is the opportunity your company has been waiting for.

“Employers are leveraging the young talent of today’s emerging workforce to position themselves as innovators,” says Ross Johnston, executive director of the University of Waterloo’s co-operative education program.

Johnston is well-versed in the realm of emerging talent – UWaterloo is home to the world’s largest co-op program, with nearly 7,000 active employers and 21,000+ co-op students. He has seen trends that suggest junior talent is key to longterm hiring success.

It’s about to get really competitive. Forward reaching companies are creating hubs of innovation, labs and studios dedicated to solving big problems, and they are hiring students to fuel that innovation. - Ross Johnston

A recent study by the Business Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) surveyed hiring managers at 95 of Canada’s largest companies. The study found that 83 per cent of those companies participate in co-op programs and other forms of work-integrated learning initiatives to help them identify potential new employees, up from 76 per cent the year before.

“Our employers tell us that students inject an energy into the workplace – their ideas are exciting, contagious and totally in-line with the current ‘knowledge economy’ needs that define today’s market,” says Johnston. He says that employers are anxious to access that ‘difference-making’ talent that propels a company forward.

David McKay, a UWaterloo grad (Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Urban and Regional Planning ’98), is one of those former students who made an impact. Over two decades ago, McKay was hired for multiple co-op work terms with MacNaughton Hermsen Britton Clarkson Planning Limited (MHBC) as a student.

Today, McKay is a partner of MHBC.

“My work terms provided me with a variety of experiences which I used to decide the direction of my career,” says McKay of the opportunities that set the foundation for his current-day success. “Co-op terms provide benefits to both the student as well as the employer,” he adds, drawing his involvement from both perspectives.

Johnston says that stories like McKay’s are common at Waterloo, but he reminds employers that early connections often yield the best results.

“Making an early connection to co-op student talent makes a difference, particularly for their first work term,” says Johnston. “The first job that a student has, that’s the one they remember. That’s often the brand they develop the strongest loyalty toward.” He says students tend to gravitate toward employers they develop a strong connection with, with many accepting full-time jobs after graduation.

McKay endorses hiring students as a means of succession planning. He likes the  fresh perspective, energy and enthusiasm students bring to the firm and says hiring co-op is a great opportunity to source future employees.

Johnston agrees, and suggests that now is the time to start. “Don’t wait to start developing your talent pipeline,” says Johnston. “Recruit your next ‘partner’ or ‘VP’ today. Strengthen your company, embed that talent to fuel your innovation. It’s never been more important to build your legacy and keep up with the competition.”

Other benefits to hiring a co-op student:

  • Cost-effectiveness: up to 70% of co-op student wages can be subsidized.
  • Flexibility: students are available year-round and can work from four to twelve months at a time.
  • Short-term staffing needs: a co-op student can help complete an existing project, cover a medical leave or start a project that has been postponed.
  • Long-term talent development: hiring co-op students now could translate into great full-time hires later.