How to welcome a co-op student to your workplace the right way

Challenge Factory’s Blog

How to welcome a co-op student to your workplace the right way

Challenge Factory’s Blog

Sydney Grenier has joined Challenge Factory as a Bilingual Research and Consulting Intern for the 2023 summer. She explores three identity-based lessons from her onboarding experience.

By Sydney Grenier

Much of my professional development has occurred over Zoom. And like most of us, I became all too familiar with online work platforms during the pandemic.

But unlike many people at other stages of their careers, I have little reference for what the “pre-pandemic normal” was like in professional settings. It’s been hard, of course—but this experience has also given me and other young professionals a unique perspective on what’s important to us in the workplace. Our values, priorities, and expectations are shifting about work and careers.

I brought this perspective to Challenge Factory during the first week of my co-op term, and it helped me very quickly identify an essential component of healthy workplaces that would set me up for a successful Work-Integrated-Learning (WIL) experience: a robust onboarding process.

Throughout my onboarding, it became clear that Challenge Factory understands the significance of identity to professional growth, collaboration, and workplace culture.

Here are three identity-based lessons from my onboarding experience that employers and other students should know.

Lesson 1: Onboarding is about me as much as the company

Individual talent and behavioural assessments are an onboarding tool that can be used to carefully consider individuality and professional strengths and weaknesses. The assessment that Challenge Factory uses is provided by TTI Success Insights. It’s designed to make sense of an employee’s talents, behaviours, and motivations to better integrate them into the company’s culture.

After completing my assessment, Lisa Taylor, Challenge Factory’s president, made sure we went through it together. We discussed the accuracy of the assessment and how my results held clues to how I would integrate into the team. I found it especially helpful when Lisa explained the different categories of behaviours—dominance, compliance, influence, etc.—so that I could also identify and understand the working styles of my new co-workers.

Being asked to reflect on my personal strengths in the workplace immediately made me feel appreciated and respected for who I am as an individual, since I was given the opportunity to discuss my skills and passions. This made me feel like a valued member of Challenge Factory rather than a candidate who simply matched up with the job listing.

The assessment and discussion helped welcome me to Challenge Factory while demonstrating the spirit of collaboration that is so crucial to Challenge Factory. This was a case of showing the company culture in action, rather than just talking about it.

Lesson 2: Everyone is part of the team, regardless of title

This lesson highlights an aspect of my onboarding experience that really differed from what I expected.  My prior professional experiences had trained me to expect a ‘chain of command’ approach to teamwork and collaboration, so I was surprised to discover a workplace with no sense of hierarchy.

Before I started at Challenge Factory, I knew the company was B-Corp certified and had a small team. However, I still didn’t anticipate how willing this tightknit group of professionals would be to answer my numerous questions. I learn best by asking questions; it’s part of my identity and personality. The Challenge Factory team recognized and encouraged this.

Interpersonal relationships during collaboration are especially important for new hires. When everyone is aware of their own strengths and the working styles of their colleagues, collaboration and productivity improve. This can lead to both engaging work and a greater sense of career ownership.

One of the five drivers shaping the Future of Work that Challenge Factory has identified is career ownership and employment relationships. The future of career ownership will be further marked by emerging career paths, upskilling, and reskilling. If an employee feels competent and engaged in their work, they are more likely to be open to different paths that can improve employment relations and career ownership.

Lesson 3: Confidence is key to becoming a good contributor, and that requires relationships built on trust

I’m inspired by the trust and confidence that my colleagues afforded me right off the bat. Even this early in my co-op term, I’ve already done data analysis, French-English translation work, and attended many meetings for the learning opportunities they present.

A structured and respectful onboarding process is tied to the productivity of a new hire. ‘Time to productivity’, a metric that many employers track, refers to the time it takes for an employee to become fully productive in their new role.

The most successful onboarding programs prioritize getting new hires accustomed to the company’s culture and work practices as smoothly and swiftly as possible. This will help build their confidence quickly, as well as build relationships between colleagues that are based on trust.

Fostering a company-wide awareness of employees’ unique working styles—how they communicate, learn, and thrive—will contribute to the richness of both workplace community and collaboration and individual productivity.

Good onboarding means not making students feel invisible

The most important takeaway from my first week at Challenge Factory is that good onboarding makes all the difference when co-op students join workplaces, and that some organizations really understand this.

I’ve been having conversations with classmates and peers who have also started their own co-op terms, and several of their experiences differ dramatically from my own. Some co-op students have received little structured orientation, clear communication, or support, making it difficult to accomplish satisfying work. There are worries that supervisors and colleagues don’t trust them and won’t invest time or effort into proper training since the work term is short (mine is four months long). And, more deeply, there’s a sense from some students that they simply aren’t being seen or fully leveraged for the company’s benefit.

Students who participate in co-op or Work-Integrated-Learning (WIL) want to be exposed to all parts of the environments in which they might build a career. Withholding certain experiences, tasks, or relationship-building from students defeats the purpose of WIL. Learning involves making mistakes, asking questions, and listening to constructive criticism.

Everyone starts a new job at some point in their career, but the experience of robust and respectful onboarding is rarer than it should be. Students and young professionals are used to adapting quickly. After all, in today’s economy, it’s not uncommon for students to have up to three part-time jobs during a single semester. As early career professionals’ values, priorities, and expectations about work continue to shift, employers who know how to avoid making their new hires feel invisible or left behind will get ahead in the competition for great talent.

Sydney Grenier is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa majoring in Conflict Studies and Human Rights in French Immersion.