Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Real-World Experience Pays Off

Journalism has always been one of those professions that demands experience before you even get your first job at a television station or newspaper.

In my case, I began working for the school newspaper and writing articles for my hometown newspaper by the time I was 17.

In college, I was required to work on the school newspaper and have internships before I graduated.

The result is that I entered my first job with real-world newspaper experience, and I not only benefited from all those years in the field, but so did my employer.

It seems more employers are clamoring for such experience, no matter the job. I recently did a story for Gannett/USAToday that shows one school meeting the need....

Since the economic downturn, one of the biggest problems for recent college graduates has been a dearth of real-world job experience.

They may have degrees from well-respected institutions, but many have been unable to get jobs because employers would rather choose workers with experience in their industries.

For the past 100 years, Northeastern University in Boston has had a program that addresses this issue. The institution partners with companies around the world as part of a co-op program to put students in the workplace before graduation.

The university received more than 43,000 applications for a freshman class of less than 3,000 in 2011, andPresident Joseph E. Aoun says he believes the number is that high because of the co-op arrangement and the part it plays in getting students jobs after graduation.

"Employers tell us they want those who have had real-world experience, especially on a global level," Aoun says.

Northeastern University students apply for opportunities to work for six months for some 2,700 employers around the world, in profit and nonprofit organizations. Students are interviewed before being offered positions.

Once a student's time with an employer is complete, students return to their classes although they can apply for future co-op opportunities, says Renata Nyul, the university's director of communications.

The downside: Students may need five years to complete college if they are hired for or more co-op jobs. But most find it's worth the wait; the National of Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 60 percent of students with internships or co-op experiences are offered full-time jobs upon graduating.

"We were happily surprised" when the number of co-op opportunities for students didn't drop during the recession and actually increased, Aoun says.

"Employers told us that they stopped offering summer internships because they did not think it was fruitful for them," he says. In summer internships, "they only had two months with the students, and the first month was spent just training them."

With the co-op program's six-month stint, employers said they had a chance to train the students, expose them to different skills and opportunities, and really assess whether a person was a good fit for the organization, Aoun says.

In the past five years, Aoun says the program has become more global, a boon for students because companies focused on competing internationally are interested in future employees who may have worked overseas.

"They want the students to be of the world," he says.

Even the application process for the co-op program gives students real-world experience, Nyul says. It teaches them how to promote their qualifications, interview with an employer and present themselves in a positive and professional manner.

While most students do receive a salary while working a co-op job, some scholarship money is available if a student will be working for a nonprofit and needing help with living expenses, she says.

Students in any major can apply for the jobs, and one student even did a co-op stint in Antarctica, Nyul says. About 7,000 students participate in the co-op program every year.

Aoun says the program continues to evolve as students and employers give feedback on how to refine it.

"Right now, I think we're in a period of knowledge explosion," he says. "Fields are growing constantly, so we're now looking at co-ops in not only established fields, but in new areas."

Historian James Truslow Adams once said there are "two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, And the other how to live."

"This kind of program does both," Aoun says. "It's a different philosophy of learning. It teaches students how to make a living and how to live."


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