For Employers: Developing Your Co-op or Internship Program
Planning and careful development of your program is the key to success.
For a successful program, everyone involved needs to be on board, from HR, to supervisors, to co-workers, to management. Co-op and internship programs require funding, time, resources, and personnel to be successful.
If you choose a multiple-work-term arrangement, you as the employer must make the commitment for the student to fit into your organization long-term, and for the assignment to develop over the agreed-upon number of work terms.
Some issues involved in creating and sustaining a quality program:
- Funding for recruitment efforts
- Time and funding to train program coordinators / supervisors
- Involving management from the top down
- Using staff to train, supervise and mentor students
- Involving students as an integral part of the organization
- Providing meaningful work assignments
- Develop quality and meaningful work assignments for students. Virginia Tech students tell us that having a well-defined project in addition to daily tasks is something they value in a co-op or internship position.
- Determine eligibility requirements, including appropriate undergraduate majors, preferred grade point average, skills needed, and work/school rotations.
- Put the job description in writing.
- If multiple work terms are agreed upon, plan for the second and third work terms to build upon and exceed the responsibilities of the previous work term(s).
- The student is required to consult with you before beginning work to create learning objectives for the work term — to which you will agree. Be prepared to suggest learning objectives appropriate to the student's assignment in your organization.
- Provide the student with an orientation to organizational policies, procedures, and utilization of resources, as well as job-specific training. More below on orientation & training.
- Plan for effective supervision. See more on supervision below.
- Have students participate in training and professional development opportunities available to other employees.
- In addition to the supervisor, assign a mentor who can provide guidance.
- Provide consistent and appropriate feedback to the student throughout the work assignment. See more below about evaluation.
- Have students give written and verbal reports on projects that are in progress or have been completed.
Salary rates and other benefits are set at your discretion.
Consider the following:
- Major / career field:
Co-op and internship salaries tend to resemble salaries of entry-level employees in the same field. This is particularly true for technical majors.
Top students in any major may require higher salaries if your organization wishes to be competitive.
- Academic level (sophomore, junior or senior level).
- Whether the work assignment is the student's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc., with the employer. Most organizations give students a raise each time they return for subsequent work assignments.
Virginia Tech Career and Professional Development gathers Undergraduate Cooperative Education and Internship Program wage data for our students' first work terms. If you use this information to set your pay rates, look at the dates for the salary information and factor in an appropriate percentage increase consistent with increases in your offers to entry level-employees.
Most employers reimburse students for transportation and moving expenses at the beginning and end of each work term. Payment for additional relocation expenses is at the discretion of the employer.
Housing arrangements are a primary concern of Virginia Tech students who relocate for their co-op or internship positions. It is critical that prior to your first hire you determine how you will assist students who need housing during their work terms. Employers have assisted with housing in a variety of ways, including:
- Providing an apartment
- Providing a housing allowance
- Matching students with other co-ops and interns so that expenses can be shared
- At a minimum, providing information about housing / apartment complexes that provide short term leases
Students who participate in the Cooperative Education and Internship Program must be enrolled with the university during their work terms. This allows students to remain covered by the same health insurance that covers them while they are enrolled in courses.
Employing organizations vary in the extent to which they provide benefits (sick days, vacation time, tuition reimbursement, etc.) to co-ops and interns. Your organization should provide what you see fit, depending on your legal requirements, your internal policies, and the standards in your field.
Please note that while students may enroll in CEIP for both paid and unpaid positions, employers are advised to consult your human resources personnel and legal counsel to make determinations on whether interns are paid or unpaid in your organization.
Federal courts have made rulings on this topic. Based on federal rulings, NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, has created guidelines and criteria on whether interns should be paid. Please see:
- NACE position statement on internships
- NACE announcement: Appeals Court Vacates Ruling in Unpaid Internship Case. 7/8/15. NACE sets out criteria employers can use to identity workplace experiences that can legitimately be identified as "internships."
- When extending offers to students, please be clear about salary, start and end dates, work location, and any benefits you will provide.
- Any verbal offer should also be confirmed in writing to the student. The student is required to submit a copy of the written offer to CEIP in order to enroll in CEIP.
- Please realize that students may need time to make a well-informed decision; we recommend that you provide students a minimum of two weeks to give you an answer.
- If an offer is accepted, please instruct the student to consult CEIP to take steps to enroll; students who fail to complete the CEIP requirements will not be enrolled in CEIP.
Virginia Tech students are required to attend a seminar on professionalism and business etiquette before they are permitted to enroll with the CEIP and begin their work assignment. However, this does not substitute for orientation you provide to your workplace.
Give students the same orientation to policies that you provide other employees. Clearly communicate your expectations for behavior and performance at the beginning of the work term.
Many organizations use more experienced co-ops, interns, and mentors as part of orientation for new students.
Don't overlook the basics. (We can tell you some funny stories about mistakes students made because they were young and naive!) For many students, the co-op or internship job is the first experience in a professional environment. Include:
- Training on office equipment and policies regarding their use.
- Organizational protocol with regard to confidential materials, computer usage, and any other sensitive topics.
- Detailed information regarding job tasks, how and when the student will be evaluated, organizational policies, dress code, attendance issues (overtime, sick leave, vacation), and the facility (restrooms, break room, etc.).
- Introductions to co-workers and explanation of how other workers' responsibilities relate to the student's work.
- How your department fits into the organization as a whole.
- Customer service and/or proper etiquette for business contact.
Include the student in departmental activities, such as lunch plans or social gatherings after work. Be aware that underaged students should not be offered or served alcohol, and should see appropriate behavior modeled by other employees.
Have students participate in training and professional development opportunities available to other employees.
- The quality of supervision can make or break your co-op or internship program.
- Provide a positive supervisory experience that encourages the academic, professional, and personal growth of the student.
- One of the primary reasons students choose to co-op or intern is to learn — a supervisor should be interested in ongoing teaching and coaching.
- The supervisor should be committed to and enthusiastic about your co-op or internship program and should understand the program requirements and the time commitment.
- The supervisor should have good interpersonal skills, technical expertise, and the ability to help students understand how their work fits into the big picture.
- A supervisor should be able to provide on-going feedback, and be comfortable being a subject for evaluation.
- Have supervisors participate in supervisor training appropriate for your organization.
The Career and Professional Development Cooperative Education and Internship Program has specific evaluation requirements, as outlined below.
In addition, to resolve potential problems early and to make your program successful, we recommend:
- Keep students continually informed (weekly, bi-weekly) of what is expected of them and how well they are performing.
- Let the student know when work is done well, and give the opportunity to improve / correct problems before the end of the assignment. Don't assume that the student's evaluation of her/his own work is the same as the supervisor's.
- Create a means for all your co-op students to evaluate your program internally, including evaluation of supervision. This enables you to identify strengths and potential problem areas in your program.
Student evaluation of each work term / learning objectives
At the close of each work term, students must complete a Cooperative Education and Internship Program Self-Evaluation and submit it to Career and Professional Development. The student will meet to discuss this with his/her CEIP advisor upon return to school.
Employer evaluation of each work term
- At the close of the work term, the CEIP office will notify the supervisor to complete an online evaluation of the student's work performance.
- Employers may use your own organization's performance evaluation document.
- We strongly recommend that you discuss the student's evaluation with her/him in person before the student leaves your work site.
Terminating a student
If performance issues or other circumstances require termination of a student's employment before completion of all work terms, or during a work term, the employer is responsible for informing the student at once and for informing the CEIP office.