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Hiring Co-op Students: A Win-Win

By Linda Plater |


Your business has grown in leaps and bounds and you're no longer capable of doing it all yourself.

Sound familiar? It may be the right time to bring in staff, but you aren't ready to pay top dollar for an employee. Who can you call? Who would love an opportunity to gain legitimate work experience? Co-op students, that's who. And many students offer much more than general office skills.

Co-op students may bring a wide range of talent to small business. But how do you choose what type of student would suit your operation?

Hiring a co-op student into a firm lets an employer test and try talent with no long-term commitment. In most cases the cost of co-op student labour is nominal, if not free. Employers beware! Free is not always a great deal. Anyone who has ever hired the wrong person knows the cost associated with a mis-hire. Co-op hires are no exception. You may still be stuck with the wrong person for the duration of their term if you are not careful.


Tips to get you started on the Co-op track:



  1. Check the community colleges and university career centres to see if they offer co-op programs. For best results, employers should structure their requirements to match the co-op program's guidelines.
  2. Keep in mind most co-op terms last four months which coincide with a specific academic term.
  3. Define and detail the scope of work that your company needs to accomplish within a specific work term. Keep a back up list of tasks just in case your student ends up to be a high performer.
  4. Submit your work placement offer to the co-op placement centre.
  5. Interview and select your co-op. If you are lucky, your first choice employee will accept your work offer.
  6. Establish ways to minimize co-op errors and put methods in place to correct them as soon as possible.
  7. Limit co-op's access to mission critical information. Carefully gauge your employee's understanding of your business and their ability to be trusted with confidential information. Remember they will be gone in a short time and you don't want them to take all of your business secrets with them.
  8. Set the student up for success - Check their performance against your own clearly defined and explained expectations. The more specific you can be, the better. You want the co-op experience to be rewarding for both the student and your business.


Several universities and community colleges have developed a reputation for their superior co-op programs. Seasoned staff cultivate relationships with employers so that their students have work placement choices. You might try to develop a relationship with placement officers if you think co-ops are for you.

Places to contact include universities, community colleges, and high schools.

Some high schools run co-op programs and their students usually work for free. Some college students are required to work for free and most university co-op programs pay the students a set rate depending on the school and the year the student is in. The pay range varies so make sure you get the correct information up front before you bring in your student.

Employers usually look for someone with maturity combined with fresh ideas gained from the student's academic program. It is very competitive amongst employers vying for the same pool of top students. Often there are more companies offering placements than choice co-ops students available. Interviewing on campus and ranking your selection makes sense. Remember students do the same with their employer choices. If you are lucky your number one pick will chose you.

In the ideal world, your co-op will contribute creative ideas and bring new energy to your business. A co-op student can also help you to test a newly created position and to determine if your business really needs this staff function filled on a full time basis. In this way, co-ops may help you to test and establish your business and human resources priorities. Chances are students with good classroom experience can add to your business, but they may also be a little too idealistic about the way things could or should work in the real world. A little idealism can be great for your organization but always remember you are in no way committed long-term to your co-op. When the co-op placement is over, there are no strings attached on the part of the employer.

Tax specialist, Michael Fromstein with SF Partnership, LLP, had several rewarding experiences with highly motivated students anxious to learn and improve their work skills. His firm hires co-ops for at least two periods so his firm has a chance to benefit from the student's learning. "The universities provide a structured environment for employers to access the attention of the students," notes Fromstein. During the busy tax season, his firm employs additional students to help out. Students share their experiences with others and if their work term proves beneficial, then you can bet they will tell their network. This can benefit businesses that require a constant influx of new talent because referrals do work.


Of course, there is no such thing as a free employee. Any business that brings in a co-op worker must be willing to give a little back to the student. For some employers this means offering serious on-the-job training to their new hires. For others it means just opening the door to give a co-op a chance to break the catch 22 of needing a job to get a job. Employers want to hire people with proven skills but how do people get these valuable skills if they don't get work opportunities in the first place? Through a temporary co-op placement, an employee gains experience and ideally the employer gets a good worker worth hiring back

With the high level of youth unemployment, you may be able to take advantage of a tax credit for hiring a co-op student. For example, some employers in Ontario can benefit from a government tax credit* for co-op students salaries. To find out what is available in your area check with your local government and Human Resources Development Corporation (HRDC) offices.


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