Walk-in experience: Why cooperative education makes sense?
The education industry has been transforming and evolving on an ongoing basis. If anything, the onset of COVID-19 has only resulted in an accelerated pace of transformation. One of the key reasons for the education industry’s evolution is to provide education that in some way integrates workplace skills and practices. Hence, cooperative education, i.e., education delivered with the help of industry involvement, is an important avenue for furthering education delivery. It is defined as “an academic program that provides learning for students through real-life experiences with businesses, agencies, and companies in the community” (Davidson & Shoenhair, 1974).
Cooperative education is certainly not a new concept and has been in use in different forms with varying levels of intensity. But, in hindsight, the gap in the knowledge delivered at educational institutions and industry practices is quite large. This is particularly true for project management education, as often concerns are raised about the widening chasm between what is taught and what is practised in project management. It necessitates finding ways and means to reduce or eliminate this gap as much as is practically feasible. And hence, the need for a fresh look at the concept.
One of the ways to do that is to offer the walk-in experience to students. What we mean by “walk-in experience” is that organisations from the industries relevant to a particular educational program come to the educational institutions and provide hands-on job-related experience to students on campus. It can take many forms, which include (but are not limited to) providing hands-on experience of various tasks carried out in day-to-day operations in a limited capacity, showing simulations of real-life business processes, showing videos of how things are done in real life, doing short presentations explaining the process steps, or using technology such as virtual reality to let students experience real-life scenarios.
Obviously, it requires building a win-win partnership so that both organisations (educational institutions and industry organisations) can see the benefit from the process. The question then is, what will be the benefits for organisations (operating outside academia) of becoming part of such cooperation and offering a walk-in experience (for project-based and non-project-based tasks)?
To answer, below we look at some of the possible benefits for organisations willing to become part of the cooperative education model to provide a walk-in experience to students.
1) Gain access to the talent pool
One of the benefits that organisations from any industry can get by being part of a cooperative educational model is accessing a potential talent pool. Organisations will have the opportunity to meet students coming through the program on a yearly basis. Participation in the walk-in experience initiative will help them understand the level of talent available within a certain geographical area and plan to tap into it.
2) Identify potential employees who can help the organisation grow
Organisations grow if they have the people that help them grow. So, by participating in the scheme, organizations will get a chance to meet and identify potential employees, both for their short-term and long-term needs. Being part of a cooperative model will help organisations strategize to bring in talented staff, which can ultimately help organisations grow. Organisations will also be able to offer internships to some of the talented students to build relationships and test the waters to see if they have good potential for being hired after graduation.
3) Create a positive image and attract publicity
Becoming part of the Walk-in Experience initiative will help organisations build a positive image among the most important section of society, i.e., students. Organisations will be able to gain publicity and create goodwill. The potential of word of mouth publicity is another avenue that makes organisational participation in this initiative a worthwhile effort.
4) Fulfill corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations
The growing emphasis on the need for organisations to fulfil their obligations towards society by developing initiatives within the purview of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is another reason for organisations to consider becoming part of the Walk-in Experience initiative. Providing students with experience and equipping them with skills to help them in their career progression will be seen as an important societal contribution and a step towards becoming CSR compliant.
5) Benefit from an understanding of the knowledge being delivered
Organisations participating in the walk-in experience initiative will also benefit from their interactions with academia. They will get to know the level and type of knowledge being delivered at a university or a college, which will enhance organisational knowledge resources and understanding of some of the latest trends in the academic world. It may also lead to organisations developing plans and actions to potentially integrate some of the concepts learned from interactions with academia into training programs for their staff.
6) Initiate research projects for business problems
The increased interaction with academia due to being part of the walk-in experience initiative will also help organisations find solutions to business problems through research and development projects. Organisations can start collaborative research projects and will be in a better position to work with academia as the platform will already be there.
7) Provide employees with an additional avenue for professional growth
Participation in the walk-in experience initiative will enable organisations to provide an additional avenue for their staff to learn and grow. Organisational staff will be able to interact with students, academics, and administrative staff of universities and colleges. These interactions and involvement will help staff improve their communication, influencing and collaborative skills.
The widening gap in education and practice (that includes project management education as well) necessitates finding solutions to plug the gap and providing learning that is close to actual real-life practices and routines. Often educational institutions work with industry organisations to provide students with hands-on job-focused experience. Or students are provided opportunities to do internships to learn real-life work. However, it is not enough and more needs to be done.
With that in mind, we have proposed a walk-in experience education model where organisations will be required to come to campus and provide the walk-in experience of real-life job tasks and actions. The obvious question that organisations will ask is what benefit they will gain from participating in such an initiative. We have, as such, outlined some of the potential benefits for organisations to be part of it. Not to mention, the benefits explained above are neither exhaustive nor complete, but just meant to spur some thoughts.
We do recognize that it is easier said than done. But, everything has to start from somewhere. So, this article puts forward the idea of a walk-in experience that builds on the cooperative educational model that has been prevalent in some form for many years.
Davidson, S. H., & Shoenhair, M. T. (1974). Alternate Cooperative Education for Two-Year Quarter System Colleges. Feasibility Research and Program Design.
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