Contemplating co-op: How can I get to the point of being able to offer a good high school co-op placement?

J-‘s been looking into the co-op program at her high school. In preparation, I’ve been planning tasks that she can work on during weekends so that she can flesh out her resume and portfolio with useful skills. 

I think co-ops might be good for me to look into it too. J- can’t work for me because of rules against working directly for family members, but maybe I can give someone like her an opportunity to develop skills.

A high school co-op placement is about 4 months of afternoon work, or roughly 220 hours. It turns out that you can offer a co-op position even without an office environment. I would like to be able to give the right candidate a structured way to gain skills and apply them towards useful stuff. It’s generally unpaid, so it’s mostly low risk (although I like rewarding good work). Still, I want to make sure I have the kind of work that will attract good candidates, and I want them to be able to get a lot out of it.

What could wild success look like? Maybe I’d look for reflective self-directed learners who are interested in developing writing, tech, and design skills. I’d talk to students about their career goals and what skills they’d like to be able to demonstrate as part of their portfolio. I’d have a well-documented process library and a steady flow of tasks so that they always have something to work on. They would own a larger project, too. During the afternoons that they’re working, I’d be available in person or over Google Hangout / Skype so that they can ask quick questions. Every week, we’d discuss our progress and make a plan for what to do next.

We could work on open source or community contributions together, or I might go and look for client work so that students get the experience of working with other businesses.

I want them to feel great about the diversity of experiences they get to try, to work on things that have value, and to feel supported and guided (versus being left to their own devices, or being exploited for cheap labour, or feeling lost).

It would be an investment of time and attention on my part. I’m at about 1 hour management : 3.5 hours of delegation for my virtual team, and supervising a high school student will probably require even more attention and thought. What would I want to get out of it? I’d make more progress on projects I want to support. We’d flesh out more documents, tutorials and blog posts along the way, too. Anyway, if things shape up well and I get better at managing other people, it might be worth looking into.

Do you offer a high school co-op position (or did you have one)? What has your experience been like?

  • Sam Flint

    I’m actually still in high school, however, I’m homeschooled, and thus am able to take advantage of different opportunities. The schools in the area don’t really offer such things, they do offer a few “Academies”, things at the zoo and the like, though. I do work a job as a developer, and am able to get a lot of practical experience.

    • Good for you! =D That’s what I want to encourage more people to do: make opportunities for themselves without letting age (or lack thereof) hold them back. =) What kind of development work do you do?

      • Sam Flint

        Web applications, sadly. If I was better at designing, it wouldn’t be an issue. Though I get to do it in Common Lisp, so I can’t complain.

        • Yay Lisp! That’s awesome. Rock on. =)

          • Sam Flint

            It’s nice to be the only programmer who still writes code on a team.

  • Ana Isabel Canhoto

    I work at a University and some of our students go on placement programmes. I think that one key determinant of success is the student’s attitude. It is not about having one particular type of attitude, but having the right attitude for the particular type of placement they get offered. So, in your case, I think that you need to assess carefully to what extent that student will be happy to work remotely and more or less independently. For some, what you are suggesting will be heaven, But others may be looking for a type of environment where they can shadow a manager much more closely.

    • Yup! That’s totally cool too. If I do take on a co-op student, I’d definitely look for someone who can deal with working remotely. Thanks for dropping in!

  • We’re about to get two high school interns, one through the Linworth school’s Walkabout program — — and one through Saturday Academy in Portland:

    Eager to compare notes, as soon as we have notes to compare!

    • Looking forward to that too! High school students can be surprisingly capable. =)