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Business Strategy

Why Hire A Co-op Student or Recent Grad During COVID-19

When the global pandemic hit last year and many operations moved online, almost every business had to quickly become a tech business. With existing digital assets, many large corporations experienced an easier transition while small- and medium-sized organizations struggled to keep up.

Strict lockdown restrictions have led to businesses using creative means to stay alive including adopting digital tools to meet their customers’ needs. Many small businesses moved from strictly brick-and-mortar to brand-new websites, opened social media accounts or used e-commerce tools to evolve. For some with the right skills on their team, the transition was relatively seamless. Others struggled to get the digital formula just right.

This is where Generation Z student talent can make a world of difference for small businesses when it comes to pandemic recovery. Today’s co-op students are technologically agile with an innovative mindset. They live their day-to-day lives in the digital world and have the knowledge from their courses to tackle digital marketing and technology development. It’s no surprise that digital jobs are on the rise and Generation Z will lead the charge.

Digital transformation with young talent

Countless businesses hire Waterloo co-op students to assist with digital transformation. Students recently demonstrated how transformational their skills can be for small businesses with the Waterloo-based organization Communitech. Through the Digital Main Street program, students work with Communitech on project teams to help small businesses stay afloat. The projects take place over four weeks with businesses such as retail shops, independent restaurants, cultural organizations and more.

Students work in teams that consist of a digital marketer, copywriter, UX/UI web designer, graphic designer, web developer and business analyst. Since last August, the program has supported more than 4,800 businesses and students have spent a combined 3,500 hours supporting the program’s transformation teams.  

These talented co-op students play a key role in transforming revenues, strategy and online presence for the businesses involved. Their work includes building websites, optimizing existing websites and social media channels, obtaining customer insights through data analytics, and creating customer profiles to target new and existing audiences. It goes to show how valuable co-op students are to any business.

Talent for a complex future

Research and a resulting whitepaper from Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute (WxL) focused on the future of work. Two themes emerged: 1) advances in technology and 2) developing skill agility and transferability. Most small businesses struggle to compete with large organizations that offer competitive pay, cool perks and unlimited vacation days. The solution is to attract young talent, such as co-op students, or upskill and reskill their current workforce.

For recovery, they need to recruit and onboard young talent remotely. Whether businesses decide to get back to in-person, continue remote work, or adopt a hybrid of both, remote work needs to happen the right way. Small businesses need to equip their teams with the tools they need to remain engaged. Here’s a great read on how to properly on-board young talent remotely.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, we must be prepared for the unexpected. Thinking with a future-oriented lens means having the future of talent in your organization to help.

About the Author:

Emily Burgess

Emily Burgess is a business developer for the University of Waterloo’s co-op program. She specializes in helping small businesses and start-ups access student talent across all industries. She supports employers and industry partners across Canada with their talent recruitment and engagement strategies. Reach out to Emily to learn more about how a co-op student can benefit your business.

For additional resources on finding government grants for new graduates and co-op students, get access to the Mentor Works Recruiting Top Talent guide to learn about funding programs like Canada Summer Jobs and the Canada Job Grant (CJG).

Where to Recruit Recent University Graduates

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