After walking out of high school over a decade ago, I promised I’d never go back – at least not until I had a child, niece, or nephew that forced me to return for a teacher visit or graduation. Then again, from what I hear, most schools host graduation ceremonies outside their high schools nowadays. Here I was thinking I was safe… Turns out, that was not the case.

Let me explain.

Last September, our company was looking for some help. We needed someone to help us with the small things; the things rarely making the priority lists (but were still needing to be completed). After much discussion, we opted to obtain this help through local high schools. We didn’t fully hire a student, instead, we brought on students from a co-op program, agreeing to teach them as much as we could while they helped us get work accomplished.

CoopFair001

For those who aren’t aware, a co-op program allows high school students to earn credits through a work placement. The student works a designated number of hours over the course of the semester completing assignments and tasks in the workplace, the same as any employee. This program allows students to experience hands-on learning in a different environment than the classroom, develop skills and habits essential in the workplace, and provides valuable work experience. Meanwhile, companies like ours benefit from innovative, young minds anxious to learn more.

Last week, our current co-op student invited Sarah and I to visit his school for his Co-op Career Day (thus the return to high school!). This event was a half day, trade show style fair inviting employers and attendees from younger grades to visit the co-op students who had been working at various employer locations throughout the semester. Younger students had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about each co-op student’s placement, while also scouting potential opportunities for themselves. Employers, like ourselves, got to hear first hand what the students have learned and the benefit of their experiences on their overall education.

Our student is a fairly quiet and reserved guy, who we brought onboard to help us out with marketing tasks. He doesn’t normally say a lot, but when questioned by his teacher and other students at the fair, he was able to fully explain what FileCatalyst does and the benefits of our software. Much to our delight, he was also able to explain why we won our Emmy! When asked by a fellow student about learning opportunities that couldn’t be achieved in class, our co-op student explained the importance and the impact the little things have on the big picture. We couldn’t be more proud!

As a student who participated in a co-op program and as someone who has now been on the employer side, the importance of the program could not be more evident. Not everyone is built to spend their life working in an office, so isn’t it better for them to have that experience at 16 or 17 years old rather than after spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education? One of the great lessons I learned from co-op, and something we continually try to pass along to the students we mentor, is that everyone is different. We want our students to learn about marketing and programming and accelerated file transfer, but, most importantly, we want them to get a feel for what life is like when you come to work daily. We recognize that some people aren’t meant to sit behind a desk daily, the same way we recognize that some people are able to work with children, or seniors, or developers better than others.

The co-op experience has benefitted the student we’ve mentored since early February, but it has also benefitted us as an organization. We’re more fulfilled in having a young man with innovative and different ideas come in daily and we hope he feels more prepared as he finishes high school and begins to contemplate a career. Our hope is he will be interested in pursuing marketing and software development, but whatever the decision, we’d like to believe we helped him form an educated decision. If nothing else, he helped me in confronting my fear of returning to high school.

To anyone interested in shaping future minds by participating in a co-op placement, contact your local school board. They should be able to help direct you to a teacher or co-ordinator that will be more than happy to help.