Lakeland's Co-op program copes with COVID
As businesses and organizations have all scrambled to navigate the COVID-19 world, Lakeland University's Cooperative Education program continues to be a popular resource to help the region address its employment needs.
In mid-March when employers launched suddenly into remote working conditions, it became clear that employers were likely to put a screeching halt to their usual hiring needs. Some organizations canceled summer co-ops and internships to gain time to re-evaluate what was essential and adjust projects to be completed virtually.
"Thankfully, the strength of the partnerships Lakeland has with employers proved absolutely critical during an unusual time," said Jess Lambrecht, Lakeland's associate vice president of cooperative education & career readiness.
"We remained in constant communication with companies, both big and small, because we knew that when companies prepared to open back up, our students would be anxious to get back to work."
Fortunately, most organizations were able to fulfill their promise to our students and, somewhat remarkably, more employers expanded their hiring needs. Companies like Johnsonville Sausage, Piggly Wiggly and Sartori Cheese were anxious to hire LU students in food production or distribution and were offering significant wages for students, as much as $17-$19 an hour. Even companies in the hospitality industry were calling Lakeland after they sent international associates home despite being in full operation.
When Lakeland's main campus re-opened for classes in August, Lambrecht and her team were working through unusual times of change.
"The true blessing is that the co-op program remained very strong and continues to thrive, thanks to the major employment demand we have in our community and the positive reputation our students have exemplified," Lambrecht said. "During our late August virtual job fair, we had companies like Sargento Foods and Bemis Manufacturing, which both offer significant tuition benefits, in attendance to talk to our students because hiring needs are strong and they look to us for new talent."
The numbers this fall are impressive. Thus far, Lakeland has:
Lakeland has a virtual Career Opportunities Fair set for Thursday, Sept. 24, for students looking for their next employment experience. The co-op team continues to meet with students virtually to support individual needs and goals.
"As an institution, we won't stop working to benefit our students personally, professionally and financially," Lambrecht said. "We look forward to working work with new employers in an effort to diversify the opportunities available. We have evolved in the last three years to meet the needs and demands of our Muskies and economy so that together we can build a brighter future for all."