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The Power of Diversity: Nudging Partners to Hire Outside the Box

September 7, 2018 10:07 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

By: Ross Johnston, Executive Director of Co-operative Education, University of Waterloo

“I couldn’t even imagine looking at someone who hasn’t done a co-op term.” That’s what one employer mentioned as key criteria in hiring talent fresh out of university. He went on to say that that co-op enables students from different background to develop a broad range of skills and experiences crucial for success after university. It seems many of our employers echo this same sentiment. Today, plenty of companies are strong believers in hiring employees with diverse skills, experiences, and backgrounds.

I’m thrilled to see many of our University of Waterloo co-op employers practice diverse recruitment and reach outside of their traditional hiring pools – tech companies aren’t only hiring software and hardware engineers or computer scientists these days. Progressive organizations hire arts and business students for their marketing and communications teams, applied health science students for their health and safety department or wellness unit, math students for their research and development product teams – the list goes on. It benefits the employers AND the students.

Some employers however, remain skeptical about hiring students from different academic or work backgrounds. As advocates of work integrated learning, we are best positioned to encourage employers to take a limited risk to post a job and consider a student outside the scope of their usual recruitment approach.

Considerable data supports a diverse hiring strategy. First, consider the research. A 2017 study by Deloitte suggests innovation through unique, productive ideas often results from individuals with a broad range of experiences and backgrounds working together as a team. The report shows that diverse and inclusive workplaces are six times more likely to be innovative, six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets.

Our employers have ample evidence of this kind of innovation when they hire a team of co-op students from a variety of disciplines. Not only do their different learning backgrounds complement one another, their multi-faceted approaches to problem solving – boosted by a dose of healthy competition – mean realized innovation within the company. (In fact, this model has taken on a form of its own in the University of Waterloo “Problem Lab”– I’ll dive into that more deeply in my next blog!)

The benefit of diverse co-op student hiring is compounded within a long-term recruiting strategy. Forward-thinking employers leverage the students’ expertise and “outside-of-the-box” perspective to try new things, often resulting in a more fulfilling work-term for the student. The greatest driver for co-op students to accept a full-time employment offer after graduation is a former work experience that provided engaging work relevant to their studies.

The student is thereby much more likely to consider an employment offer after graduation with such an employer. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 81% of dissatisfied interns say a lack of meaningful work is their greatest area of disappointment.

There is one final consideration (and I hope I don’t sound too dire). If an organization is not already approaching recruitment in innovative ways, understanding the market and the new generation joining the talent pool, they will soon find themselves left behind. Industry leaders such as represented in Canada by the Business Higher Education Roundtable are strongly advocating the needs and strengths of the next generation of talent, and are evolving their employee experience as necessary. Innovation labs/spaces are popping up in leading organizations – RBC, Cisco, IBM, and even Canada’s federal government, to name a few. These spaces intentionally bring diverse groups together to seek new ideas and approaches to tackle some of the most pressing issues in the organization (and society). In turn, these labs are increasingly being leveraged as perks and benefits to potential hires throughout the recruitment process.

I truly believe that diversity (in both thought and practice) breeds innovation, with measurable results for industry and our own students. The next time you find yourself “nudging” your partners to hire outside of their usual practice, hopefully you’ll be able to show them the powerful outcomes they may be able to achieve.

AUTHOR: Ross Johnston is the Executive Director of Co-operative Education at University of Waterloo. He also serves as Vice President of Global Networks for CEIA.

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