All posts by Stephen Patchin

Co-op/Internship Experience vs. GPA . . . . Which Wins?

Company conversion rate co-op/intern to full-time employee:

61% (median – 80%)

A recent survey of career services directors at STEM focused universities found that over 85% were experiencing increased interest in participating in co-ops or internships during their collegiate experience. Students and their parents are getting the message, corporate recruiters are seeing increasing value of students that have shown they can successfully apply what they have learned. The Michigan Tech led STEM Collaborative sought out to seek a greater understanding of this ‘hands-on’ value by surveying student co-op/interns and the corporate recruiters that recruit them.

Will your company be increasing the number of internships it offers?

77% – YES!

In the search for a strong college full-time hire, employers are reviewing and redefining characteristics on what makes an engineering candidate stand out. Is it the student’s performance in academics, which might translate to the understanding of basic engineering fundamentals? Or, is it the practical hands-on experience obtained through internships and co-ops, which showcases real-world complex problem solving abilities, interpersonal and communication skills? With companies increasing the number of internship/co-op positions each year, the more vital considerations are: 1) which of these might give the STEM student the advantage in his or her job search, and 2) which of these might benefit the company in the long-term strategy.

What do co-ops/internship experience mean to companies?

Charlie Kramer from Meyer Contracting, “Understanding our culture, our work ethic expectations, our demands of our employees and corresponding rewards.”

Josh Szymanski from Owen Ames Kimball, “Students learn to work with others through problems, politics, and conflict on projects. They also see real world application on concepts they are learning during the school year.”

What value do students see in participating in co-ops/internships?

“The level of project autonomy I have and the incredible learning experiences are the most satisfying while on co-op.” – Ryan, Michigan Tech co-op, Bemis

“The greatest value a co-op brings to a company is their point of view and the way they look at the world. They are new to the company and are not yet accustomed to the way things have been, which is why they are more open to ideas of change and trying new ideas which might help. Another value that co-op students bring to a company is to show the type of work ethic and knowledge that comes from being at a specific college to aid the co-op hiring process in the future.” Jenna, Michigan Tech co-op, Greenheck

What do recruiters value most?

Co-op/Internship Experience – 51% | GPA – 13% | Both – 36%

When asked if internships/co-op were more valuable, a respondent from Twitter stated, “Yes – I believe so. Although I believe college is a test of how well an individual can approach, learning from, and retain new information. I do believe real work experience is more valuable. The ability to navigate through an organization or even understand what navigating through an organization means, is key in quick success at any company.”

Although employers recognized that some companies in the selection criteria might use a minimum GPA, many more stated that once this was met, experience would take precedence in their choice, especially with upperclassmen seeking full-time jobs. For example, a student who has a 3.0 GPA with experience would more often than not be chosen over a student with a 4.0 and no experience. As stated by a respondent from Caterpillar, “Both are very valuable to have but students considered for Caterpillar internships must meet the minimum GPA specified on the job opening in order to be considered. However, involvement in extracurricular activities and other work experiences, even if it is not related to their major, is more important than the higher GPA. We are looking for well-rounded students that have demonstrated the ability to balance their time. The experience gained working, while applying what they have learned in class, demonstrates they have the ability to do that and work with others in a full-time position. For these reasons, we seek out individuals that have had co-op, internship, and/or extracurricular experiences on their resumes.”

Will you make room for top talent?

88% – YES!

We then asked company recruiters “If you find strong candidates on the recruiting trail, will you make a position for them?” – 88% responded with a resounding YES! Corporate America manages budgets to maximized profits and drive share price. Its most precious and scarce commodity is the graduates our STEM focused institutions are producing, so much so that they will make space for them on their teams, regardless of budget. A student with co-op/internship experience qualifies as a strong candidate. That is the definition of a valued asset!

How to be Successful in “The Future of Work”

Last week a symposium was held at Stanford University titled “The Future of Work.” Collaborators from Silicon Valley, higher education institutions across the country, and other industry leaders gathered to discuss the impact of advancements in technology, including how higher education will need to react to changing economic needs. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and professor at MIT set the stage with his remarks, “by 2030 fifty-percent of jobs will be replaced by robots or some other form of technology. Half the workforce will need to upscale their skills to stay employed.” What skills will be needed and how will students/workers acquire them?

“People skills will be the most durable in our new economy” stated Guy Berger, Chief Economist at LinkedIn. These skills consist of critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to be agile in your career, allowing you to take on new job opportunities that match your increasing skills set. College majors increasing in demand include computer programming, data science, and engineering.

Anant believes that the quickening pace of technological creation and innovation will support the development of a culture of life-long learning. Schooling will not end with college graduation with a 4-year degree. Anant believes colleges could move toward a subscription model. Like a magazine, each person would subscribe to it, paying a monthly payment, but having the ability to take any courses needed to stay updated in knowledge relevant to their careers.

Farouk Dey, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Career Education at Stanford University shared Stanford’s 2025 vision for the future of higher education. Termed “Open Loop Education”, students would take a few courses related to their chosen career, then go to work applying what they have learned, returning to school when they need additional knowledge in a never ending cycle. Dey also noted the rise of “Skill Boot Camps”. These 3 to 5 day intense downloads of information is another way for workers to upscale their skills.

These new developments in technology, changes in educational models, and values of the Millennial and Gen Z generations have combined to create the Gig Economy. This is one characterized by short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. To continue to qualify for these short-term assignments, workers will need to be “experts” in their specialized fields, further endorsing these new education models.

The rise of robots and advancements in areas of artificial intelligence will cause a loss of many current jobs. This shift will also create new careers in a transformed economy. The degree each of us will be successful in this economy will depend on how quickly we become active life-long learners.

Will Company Conformist Cultures Limit the Impending Supercycle of Innovation?

In the 1930’s when the world was in a great depression, innovation creation excelled in the form or jet engines, televisions, synthetic materials, and even early computers. John Michaelson’s goes on in his Wall Street Journal article, “Prepare for a New Supercycle of Innovation”, to document how historically economic downturns are followed by intense periods of industrial growth led by inventions and increased productivity. This can only occur in corporate cultures that question the status quo, encouraging outside-the-box thinking. But are we encouraging this non-conformist attitude?

Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School notes that “across industries and jobs, employees are feeling pressured to follow established norms and practices in their own organizations. They tell of being frustrated by the lack of opportunities to speak their minds, to be the best versions of themselves, to bring their ideas to the table or suggest ideas for changing the status quo for the better.”  Are companies truly encouraging a culture of conformity, thus stifling a culture of advancement and invention needed for a strong post-recession super-cycle of innovation?

Michigan Technological University graduates over 80% of its students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related fields, a majority being in engineering disciplines. Eager to take their newly acquired knowledge for a test-drive, many engage in co-op’s or internships before graduation, starting as early as the summer after their freshmen year. So are they experiencing this conformist atmosphere during these corporate experiences?

A young Mechanical Engineering student who worked spring semester at Polaris was tasked with realigning instructions and illustrations being used in their productions processes with the goal of improving quality and efficiencies of the processes. He found that “quick thinking and innovative approaches from my side ensured he could find solutions” that were vetted, endorsed, and then implemented by his supervisors.

Another Mechanical Engineering student worked at Expera Specialty Solutions. He was tasked with reviewing their chemical delivery system used for their specialty paper orders and discover what was causing defects in their customized orders. The culture encourages innovation and understands that trial-and-error is accompanied by mistakes which he addressed in his comments “although I know I have made mistakes along the way, everyone easily dismisses the mistakes and focuses on what you have done to resolve the problem.”

Finally, a Chemical Engineering student was assigned to a team at Bemis that is developing a food-packaging product with high barrier properties. This innovation would be used to keep certain chemicals, flavors, and nutrients inside a package, opening up vast new markets for the company. She was encouraged to communicate her ideas, no matter how far outside-the-box which were welcomed and considered by all on the team. She did realize that “there is monotonous work that comes along with the job, but it needs to be completed in order to get to the exciting innovative tasks.”

Michaelson’s is predicting an upcoming Supercycle of Innovation, while Gino’s observations indicated an existing corporate culture of conformation will stifle this creative cycle. I argue that cultures of non-conformity still exist in companies like Polaris, Expera, and Bemis. If indeed this culture of conformity exists, it is not comprehensive. It is also possible that STEM focused graduates are being hired in greater numbers into these non-conformist cultures, for they have the tools to make innovation occur. The number of STEM graduates could be the ultimate limiting factor on the degree of economic success associated with the coming Supercycle of Innovation!

The Importance of Recruiting Efforts, Don’t “Poison the Well”!

Career services departments on college campuses across America answer student inquiries on topics from resumes to where to find a job. A growing area of student frustration that has risen is communications with companies during the hiring process. Questions such as; how do I know if they got my on line application; when should I hear back from them after the interview; how often should I contact them before I become annoying; and why don’t they let me know if I received the job? With the labor market tightening this lack of corporate follow up is now producing a backlash from this young workforce.

Future Workplace LLC and human resource software company CareerArc Group LLC surveyed job candidates on this topic. Nearly two thirds of these candidate stated they were less likely to purchase goods and services from an employer who treated them poorly during the recruiting process. This trend is also impacting recruiting efforts.

Recently, a panel of engineering and information technology students were questioned by Michigan Tech’s Career Services Corporate Advisory Board members. Company representatives inquired what made a positive recruiting experience, their answers included:

  • Don’t make me fill out long on-line applications
  • Make us feel like you want us
  • Be sincere in your interest
  • Acknowledge receipt of our application
  • We place a high value on positive experience(s) with recruiters

Students went on to explain the type of work they expected in co-ops and internships work opportunities (and we would add full-time opportunities). They want meaningful assignments, hands-on focused work, and projects where they could see a start and a finish. There must be evidence of progress and impact to company operations.

Where did students get most of their information about a company and its culture? Number one source was their peers that had worked/do work at that company or had interactions with their recruiters (including what they had heard from other students). Take note companies interested in recruiting highly sought after candidates in STEM related careers, lack of follow up in recruiting or unstructured co-op/internship opportunities will not only poison your bucket of recruits, but potentially the whole well in both the short and long term


Next Generation of University Career Services Annual Reports

Habit number two of Stephen Covey’s successful book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “begin with the end in mind.” This is the mantra of incoming college freshmen and their parents across the country. Some refer to it as the return on investment, but the bottom line is what are the job prospects and what will be their starting salary for careers in the major they are considering. Like a person who reads the end of the book to find out what happens, they forget to pay attention to the most important aspect of their education, the importance of engagement in their collegiate journey, the heart of each book that defines the value at the finish.

Members of the National Association of Colleges and Employers collaboratively worked together to identify key career competencies that have been identified as necessary tools for personal and professional success. The competencies include: critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, information technology, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, and career management. But how do students acquire these in their collegiate experience. Acquiring each one is not a pill they can take or one class they can participate in. Each student acquires them through a unique series of experiences that they choose to engage in, that matches their interests and aptitudes. One size does not fit all, and it shouldn’t.

Career Services annual reports at higher education institutions across the country focus on “the end” or results which include placement rates and annual salaries. They fail to tell the story of the student’s journey in relation to the outcomes they earn at the end of their collegiate experience. Michigan Tech’s Career Services 2015-16 annual report takes you on the journey of our students from their first campus visit to graduation. Career Services works with partners across campus to help create and execute many of these experiences, while working with students to help them communicate the career skills they have acquired from them. We encourage you to visit on January 31 to view the next generation of Career Services Annual Report.

Impact of Summer Internships and Jobs on Michigan Tech Students

Each summer college students take part in a pilgrimage to summer employment destinations. These positions provide students funds to use toward their education and allow them to take their acquired knowledge for a test drive, helping them develop new skills and discover career aptitudes along the way.

Michigan Tech students taking part in employment opportunities in the summer of 2016 were polled to discover what they enjoyed most about their experience. Students noted their number one pleasure was working in a professional and collegial working environment. A student working at the Oshkosh Corporation in Wisconsin noted the “people first culture, making a global company have a small town feel.” Others appreciated the diverse workforce they got to work with, “to live and work with over 100 interns around the world and country.”

The hands-on use of their newly acquired knowledge ranked second among respondents. One student’s observation “I enjoyed learning how the same physical aspects of Civil Engineering intertwined with the technical aspects. How civil materials were tested in the lab for most practical and efficient use in the field.” Others were involved in challenges ranging from writing new training manuals for new and existing equipment to designing and approving all art work and designs for a business.

In the end, students enjoyed contributing to the teams and organizations they worked for, feeling that their contributions were valued. They noted being treated like full-time employees. This respect manifested itself in the responsibilities they were given such as: in charge of purchasing $50K+ of supplies, collected and analyzed component pricing globally then proposed next steps to help create a uniform pricing strategy, and supervising professional crews to complete multiple projects. Students left these positions with the confidence that they can successfully apply the knowledge they are acquiring. They also found themselves acquiring new skills involved in the careers they are pursuing ranging from leading teams to building web apps to monument preservation.

Summer jobs and internships play a vital role in the personal and professional growth of each student. The value of knowledge and acquisition of skills increase in value only when they are put to use productively. The value of summer break lies in more than just time off from school!

Systems Controls Helps Co-ops/Interns Develop Career Competencies

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has identified key competencies the young graduates must have to successfully begin their careers. Employers have identified critical thinking/problem solving and teamwork/collaboration from this list as critical areas in which young college graduates are still lacking. Systems Controls of Iron Mountain, Michigan has structured their co-op/internship program to help develop these sought after skills.

Alec is a 3rd year mechanical engineering student at Michigan Tech interning at Systems Control for the summer. Alec was charged with making new adaptable wall sections for the buildings that house a complex set of relay systems. What makes these building so important? Without them you would be living in a house with no power. They are part of the glue that keeps the power transmission grid together in the United States and across the globe.

When an intern begins their co-op/internship at Systems Control they are first trained in safety processes, the foundation of success when dealing with the manufacturing of these high-power diverters. Next, they learn about all the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) that populate the facility. This talented intellectual group will serve as key resources for his project teams. During their experiential learning opportunity, co-ops/interns will be given projects and a mentor to guide them. Meeting with them formally at the beginning and end of each week, these mentors help co-ops/interns identify SME’s that will be part of their team to complete each project while also guiding their progress. These mentors are available 24/7, the ultimate index to SME’s and project success.

Alec describes his experience at Systems Control using words like empowering, exciting, productive, and fulfilling. He describes the organization culture as welcoming, supportive, and like family. Students are part of a team that embraces sharing of knowledge, transparency of problems and opportunities, and the celebration of solutions.

Systems Controls recognizes that they can’t develop these future SME’s alone. They work with a combination of higher education partners including Michigan Technological University, Northeast Wisconsin Technological College, Bay College, and even local high schools to foster and develop the talent pipeline in their rural community. As the education system in the U.S. races to meet the challenge of producing career-ready graduates, Systems Control is providing a model of the vital role industry plays in this process.

Career Competencies Maximize a Student’s Value

It is estimated that the Class of 2016 will graduate with an average of $37,172 in student loans. Over 43 million Americans own student loan debt. The key to securing a good paying job after graduation to pay off this debt is to effectively communicate the value you can provide a company. But what values are companies looking for?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers have identified the seven key career competencies that employers are seeking in their top candidates. The competencies include:

  1. Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  2. Oral/Written Communications
  3. Teamwork/Collaboration
  4. Information Technology
  5. Leadership
  6. Professional/Work Ethic
  7. Career Management

Colleges and universities across America have created Career Services departments to help students identify their talents that relate to what employers are seeking. These professionals then help students communicate this unique set of skills through resumes, e-portfolios, and personal interviews. Recruiters will tell you it takes six seconds for them to scan a resume and decide if they want to interview the candidate. Your resume has six seconds to communicate your many unique talents. It is vital that resumes are structured to tell your story in a concise, engaging, and comprehensive professional fashion.

Research suggests that those entering the workforce now will end up changing jobs every 4 to 6 years. It will not be uncommon for graduates to experience a minimum of 5 different careers in their lifetime. The career skills they use to secure their first job will be used multiple times throughout their careers and will be the determining factor on the level of compensation they receive. As students begin their collegiate experience they must engage with their career services offices on campus as soon as they arrive on campus. The skills they acquire from these professionals will serve them for a lifetime by maximizing the value of their education and the unique talents they acquire.

Co-op/Internship Experiences Increase Student Self-Efficacy

Co-ops and Internships are situations where students take their knowledge for a test drive. Companies hire these university students to work at their operations for 3 to 8 months, assigning them mentors and giving them real world work to complete individually and with teams or seasoned professionals. So what is the impact on the student of this experience?

A team of researchers led by Joseph Raelin at Northeastern University conducted a study to explore how these corporate experiences impacted the student’s self-efficacy. They created three categories of student self-efficacy to measure: work self-efficacy, career self-efficacy, and academic self-efficacy. They found that students that participated in co-ops and internships experienced increases in work and career self-efficacy, but actually experienced an incremental decrease in academic self-efficacy. Continue reading

Industry Demand for Top Talent Continues to Rise

“The key is that employers can no longer afford to improvise when it comes to attracting and retaining talent to meet the aggressive demands for business growth at most companies. Rather, employers need to get serious about establishing a data-driven compensation strategy to meet their talent needs now and into the future” (Attack of the out-of-date comp plan,

According to survey results from, 81% of industry is rushing to create a formal compensation strategy. With 73% seeing increased revenues, 89% are providing raises to retain top talent. Over 60% of the companies are worried about retaining top talent while similar results illustrate their anxiety to attract top talent coming out of the college pipeline. Companies are turning to active use of bonuses and a renewed focus on professional development and learning opportunities for their employees. Continue reading