By Patricia Alex
hen college students can spend several months at top international firms like Goldman Sachs, they naturally come away with valuable résumé-building experience. But what’s often left out of the conversation is the value that students inject back into the business.
Joseph Camarda, a managing director in private wealth management at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, cited this mutually beneficial exchange when explaining why the company has partnered with Drexel University in Philadelphia to place 145 students in cooperative education positions at its U.S. offices since 2014.
“They bring a young, vibrant, innovative mind to the team and that adds a value that we want to use over and over,” he said.
By collaborating with businesses, colleges and universities can deliver on the promise of relevance for career-minded students. From co-ops and internships, to mentoring and research opportunities, they can also invigorate programs on campus and bring value to firms.
Ashley Inman, a human resources expert who has worked with college interns in several industries, recalled one intern at a construction firm who developed an app for the company to better track inventory — a strategic innovation that helped streamline sales.
“Organizations can get stuck in their ways,” she said. “The value that the students bring is a fresh perspective.”
It’s part of the reason Goldman values its partnership with the university today — 13 years after the co-op relationship began with just a few students in the company’s Philadelphia office. A number of graduates since that time have gone on to work for Goldman full-time.
“The work ethic of these students is just phenomenal,” Camarda said. “It shows up every day.”
Students, in turn, bring valuable perspectives back to campus with them – including “bottom-line” urgency that can sometimes be lacking in academia, said Inman, who sits on the talent acquisition panel of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Strong and meaningful links to industry can inform curricula and programming on campus – helping to make sure academic offerings remain relevant to the needs of industry and students seeking jobs.
Higher education, however, has typically struggled to create and maintain those links, leading to a skills gap that leaves companies with jobs they can’t fill and students who can’t get jobs.
It’s often not for lack of effort. Many colleges and major companies have officers dedicated to building bridges. But it’s the strategies born from those partnerships that seem to matter most.
Some relationships are more extensive than others. Schools that offer co-op programs, such as Drexel University, the University of Cincinnati and Northeastern University in Boston, position students to work full-time for a six-month term.
While shorter-term internships and other less formal arrangements are also popular, the duration and scope of co-ops allow students to move past initial learning curves and increase their chances of making a valuable contribution.
Families look for those industry connections to be “in the package” when they evaluate college options, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
“It’s part of the sale now, it’s part of preparing young people to get a good job,” said Carnevale. “Employers want people with more skills coming through the door and the only way you can get that is work experience.”
Co-ops and internships have become an integral training and recruiting tool for employers, particularly in a robust economy with high employment.
“Right now, they are more important than ever as companies are scrambling to fill spots,” said Peggy Harrier, executive director of the 700-member Cooperative Education and Internship Association. The practice has also been expanding to high schools and graduate programs, she said, as the value of job-oriented practical experience is recognized.
Nearly half of Drexel grads are offered full-time jobs from their former co-op employer, according to Ian Sladen, the university’s vice president of cooperative education and career development.
That rather seamless transition for so many shows that students are graduating not only with technical expertise, but also with the “soft skills” that include the ability to work in teams and communicate effectively within business culture.
“The development of these professional skills makes Drexel students uniquely qualified and has a long-term impact on their career progression,” Sladen said.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which also goes by CHOP, has employed Drexel co-ops for a decade, during which time the program has grown to accommodate nearly 100 students per year, said Elizabeth Donnelly, a registered nurse and CHOP talent strategist.
“It’s a beneficial relationship for both sides. It’s like a six-month job interview, it’s great for recruiting,” said Donnelly. “And the majority of nursing students do get hired.”
Michelle McKernan completed three co-ops with the hospital – one administrative and two clinical – as a student at Drexel. She graduated in 2017 and was hired for her dream job as a nurse in the hospital’s oncology clinic.
“With the co-op, I got to experience what it felt like to work in a hospital,” she said. “It gave me a much wider understanding of the roles and responsibilities.”
What’s happening at the hospital and at Goldman Sachs is emblematic of a growing trend. Both universities and businesses are increasingly seeking linkages with one another, said Dan Ryan, founder of Ryan Search & Consulting, a specialist in talent acquisition and leadership development in Tennessee.
“It’s one of the most critical things they can do. It’s important on both ends,” said Ryan.