This video adapted from ATETV introduces viewers to internships and cooperative education programs, or "co-ops." These two types of work experience—one part-time, the other full-time—help prepare students for careers in technology and engineering. Bristol Community College encourages its students to do internships and co-ops in order to gain hands-on experience and apply classroom lessons in the real world. Because internships and co-ops allow students to work with the actual equipment and technology used in industry, this can help students get hired by employers as soon as they graduate from their school or certificate program.
For many technical job areas, it is helpful for students to gain exposure to a career field before they begin searching for a full-time job. Cooperative education programs (co-ops) and internships offer opportunities to combine classroom theory and hands-on lab activities with practical work experience. A co-op experience typically provides academic credit for a structured job experience; students may alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of full-time employment. An internship typically refers to a short-term work assignment, most often completed during a summer. Internships can be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid, depending on the employer and the career field.
Co-ops and internships give students a chance to try out different career fields or industries before committing to them. This can be especially valuable for students who don’t really know what working professionals in their field of study actually do. But even for students who think they know the field they want to work in, these experiences can help define the career path they’ll follow, from entry-level to senior-management positions.
Beyond learning technical skills associated with a field, students derive other benefits from co-ops and internships. These benefits include hands-on experience that will stand out to potential employers; confidence from having seen the professional world from the inside; contacts who may be able to serve as employment references or refer students to open positions they know of; and other job-related skills, such as communication, organization, and teamwork. In many cases, co-ops and internships function as extended job interviews that can lead to permanent jobs.
Students who have already worked in co-ops and internships offer the following advice to those doing them for the first time:
The search for these valuable work experiences may begin with the school's career center or a guidance counselor. Alternatively, there are listings on industry association Web sites and career fairs. Summer internships fill up quickly, so students are advised to start their searches by late fall or early winter. For high school students, where a paid opportunity might go to more advanced students, job shadowing is another option that offers insight and hands-on experience outside of the classroom. This unpaid work experience allows students to learn about a job by "walking in the shadow" of an experienced worker.
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