For recent graduates, it is hard to look at the job market with optimism. Despite the fact that national unemployment rates are in decline, the numbers of young Americans that are either unemployed or underemployed are nearly double the national average, according to the Economic Policy Institute. One of the most efficient methods for future graduates to position themselves for success is to set themselves apart and to gain relevant work experience. Since 2012, Rowan College at Gloucester County's Cooperative Education Program has given students that very advantage.
Three years after its implementation, the program has placed more than 75 students in businesses that have provided real-world experiences. Program Director Darlene Berger champions this initiative, guiding students into their ideal career pathways. "The program is invaluable," said Berger, remarking on how much it can help students in the long run. "Participation in the Cooperative Education Program boosts the student's marketability by adding relevant work experience to their resume."
As designed, the Cooperative Education Program provides students with the opportunity to explore a new job or new responsibilities in the workforce as a part of their curriculum. Participants are actively engaged in the process and are required to create their own goals, which they plan to achieve as participants of the program. Then their employers, in coordination with Berger, work with the students to accomplish these goals. Employers are responsible for evaluating student progress.
Devon Mooney, a Woolrich resident studying Business Administration, is one of the program's early success stories. Working with Art Guild, a company that makes retail displays, tradeshow and museum exhibits in West Deptford, N.J., Mooney flourished in her cooperative education assignment as an accounting clerk.
"I can say with great pleasure that this experience has been worthwhile. The experience at Art Guild has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," Mooney stated, despite coming in with limited optimism. "I filled out the application with no expectation of actually getting a position," she added. "In fact, there are tons of available positions and a high probability of getting a position that is well suited for your chosen career field."
Not simply excelling in her newfound role, Mooney also managed to create a long-lasting bond with the company. "My relationship with everyone there is something I truly cherish," she said. "The people I have had the opportunity to work with at Art Guild have treated me like family. Everyone was willing to help me out and teach me new things. I have built a bond with people who I would not have had the opportunity to otherwise meet."
Art Guild Human Resources Director Kathleen Dongivin particularly admired Mooney's maturity and surprising thoroughness. "She asked a lot of good questions," Dongivin noted of Mooney's tenure with the company's accounting department. Her work ethic and attention to detail have earned her a glowing letter of recommendation and the highest possible grade in the program, something that gives her an absolute edge when she graduates in spring 2015.
Dongivin's praise of Mooney goes in hand-in-hand with the goals of the program. "Overall," she said, "it's a very positive opportunity for the students." Moreover, Dongivin wholeheartedly suggests that other businesses consider becoming involved as sponsors.
These local successes are underscored by a host of research on internships and similar work-placement programs. A recent study by Internships.com found that the number of employers looking for interns will continue rising in the near future. But more importantly, student participants had a 7 in 10 chance of being hired by the company where they interned – a considerably higher percentage than students who did not take advantage of the opportunity. The study also found another key in the hiring process – and one that sometimes goes unnoticed: that hiring managers tend to value interview skills and work experience most when breaking into a career.
Rowan College at Gloucester County's Cooperative Education Program acts as the bridge for students, underscoring the connection between high academic standards to hands-on, real-world work experiences. Students and employers interested in the program can visit rcgc.edu/Coop or call at 856-415-2168.
Rowan College at Gloucester County's 250-acre campus is located at 1400 Tanyard Road, just off of Exit 56 of Route 55.