In today’s world, IT co-op students don’t just leave with experience–they also bring some with them

Interns closing the IT generation gap
IT companies are buoyed by a bit of youthful enthusiasm in the workplace, with an overwhelming majority of CIOS keen on the idea of recruiting interns, according to study by Robert Half Technology.

From a survey of 270 CIOs across Canada working at companies with more than 100 employees, the staffing firm found that 80 per cent of those questioned saw IT internships in a positive light. This marks a significant change in attitudes from previous years, says Leslie Heathers, metro market manager at Robert Half Technology.

In hiring new graduates, she says, “I think that employers today specifically look at a couple of different factors, and they never used to. And one of those is: Have they done an internship? Where was it? Can we get a reference from that internship?”
For new IT graduates, internships and co-op placements are often a critical link between the academic and professional worlds. For them, the benefit is clear: they get an initiation into their career and have the promise of future paid work dangling within reach.
The reasons for which IT companies take interns under their wing are more numerous. Sometimes altruism is involved to a degree, with companies viewing co-op placements as community outreach of sorts.  And other times, they’re simply interested in a few extra bodies to do some grunt work.
But today, with a generation of young people who grew up on broadband video, mobile phones and social media, they’re also seen as wise beyond their years to a company’s old guard. In many cases, the veterans can learn a thing or two from the new recruits.
David Clarkson, director of human resources at Cisco Systems Inc. in Canada, says  in the most basic sense, his firm can benefit from a fresh set of eyes looking at a certain procedure and asking, “Why are you doing it that way?”
Plus, the young interns already have a good handle on what Cisco’s main line of business is, he adds. Video and YouTube have become “an integrated culture,” he says, which “is something that’s interesting to our people just because, as an Internet company, that’s right at the heart of what’s going on.”
Cisco in Canada hires only a few dozen interns at a time and recruits mostly through the individual initiative of its HR professionals, he says, “whereas in the U.S., they have an army that kind of goes out and sets all this stuff up.”
This is not for lack of demand, Clarkson says, but rather just a consequence of being a smaller branch of a multinational company. He’ll take on as many interns as he can handle.
Certainly, Cisco Canada doesn’t waste the talents of its few interns on menial temp work. Students will get exposure to research and development work, sales, engineering, marketing and communications. In sales, interns will be paired with a sponsor who will create a structured agenda for them. Or if they’re more technically inclined, “we have demonstration rooms, and they’ll basically get a chance to go work in a lab for a summer.”
At Seneca College, with which Cisco has a co-op agreement, Susan Soikie, manager of cooperative education, says her institution doesn’t have much trouble finding partners in the IT sector. Not only are there long-term advantages to bringing in “new blood,” namely fostering innovation within their walls, but there are also more immediate ones. “They can also qualify for co-op tax credit of up to $3,000 [in Ontario] per student every work term,” says Soikie.
For his part, Clarkson says the partnership with Seneca College has had “really good results.” One member of his team went out of her way to arrange it. They may be small in number, but Cisco’s  Canadian recruiters are aggressively seeking out the newest talent Canada’s colleges and universities can offer, he says.
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