CO-OP Program Offers On-the-Job Experience to Students

­­In order to allow academically-qualified students to gain practical experience and enhance their job-hunting skills, Birzeit University and its partners has initiated the Cooperative Education Program (CO-OP.

CO-OP is an educational program that aims to combine work and study, thus improving students’ academic knowledge, and develop their professional skills. Currently, the program is restricted to students of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology and the Faculty of Business and Economics, including all its departments.

Program Addresses High Youth Unemployment

The program in part seeks to address a very high unemployment rate among Palestinian youth. A 2013 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in partnership with the International Labor Organization, regarding young people's transition from school to work showed that the unemployment rate among young people in Palestine amounted to 37%, which is higher than the unemployment rate in nearby Jordan and Tunisia. The survey also indicated that more than half of the young women in Palestine are unemployed, with an unemployment rate among females nearly twice what it is for young males (54.8% and 32.4%, respectively).

"These figures reflect the need for such a program,” said Co-op director Omar Imran, “which provides job opportunities for students, whether male or female.” Imran added that this program engages the private sector because of its importance in accommodating a large number of graduates, and thus creates collaboration between universities and the labor market.

Students participating in the program will work for three semesters in jobs related to their fields of study, allowing them to gain at least one year of experience with the same employer, while also being paid competitive salaries. Through the remedial course of the program, the university prepares students by offering training courses that cover an average of 30 training hours in life skills such as communication, networking, interviewing for a job, resume writing and other skills. At the end of the program, students will receive a certificate of specialization in cooperative education.

Project coordinator Mira Awashreh said that the benefits of the cooperative program are not limited to the opportunity to explore different career paths in order to choose the right job, but also in the ability to realize the basics of career life.

"There are many benefits to being a CO-OP student,” Awashreh added, “most importantly, acquiring work experience related to their field of specialization. In other words, students graduate not only with their degree, but also with at least 6-12 months of relevant experience. This experience will assist students to secure a full-time job after graduation.”

CO-OP Partners Also Benefit

Benefits are not restricted to the university and its students, but also include the program’s partner companies and institutions. Companies that hire a CO-OP student gain community respect and create goodwill, as the community learns about the employer’s support for local students. It can also solve short-term resource challenges, capacity-building for new ventures, and bring fresh ideas to the workplace.

The list of current partners includes Rawabi, Wataniya Mobile Company, Exalt Technologies, Innotech for Programming and Technology, Massar International, Palestinian Telecommunication Group, Consolidated Contractors International and others.

Students say WorkExperienceGave Confidence, Responsibility

Student of information systems engineering and participant in the CO-OP program Abaa’ said that engaging in the labor market while still studying is proactive and meaningful and opened up broader horizons and on-the-job skills. "Continuous follow-up by program supervisors gave us great confidence to move forward, and motivated our sense of responsibility," she said.

Another student, David, said that the “program builds on the practical aspects of student life, a gap for many students, and allows the student to get acquainted with the work and market environment. The CO-OP program helped me in building a network of relations that will certainly benefit me after graduation.”