CONSIDERATIONS FOR DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL CANADA-JAPAN CO-OP PLACEMENT
It is the sincere desire of The Canada-Japan Co-op Program that participating companies and students will feel satisfied with the program, enjoy their participation, and find the experience to be worthwhile.
Over the history of the program and with more than 1,100 students placed as of August 2018, we have been able to observe that there are many ways and opportunities for developing a truly beneficial experience, for both the company and the student. We believe that there are many things that companies, students and The Canada-Japan Co-op Program staff can do to help ensure that the work placement/internship proceeds smoothly and in a positive manner.
The following is a list of suggestions for helping to create a successful Canada-Japan Co-op work placement:
1. Appropriate Matching:
It is important that companies select students whose skill sets and stated work interests match the kind of work in which the company is involved. Students are usually quite flexible about the work project, provided the field is within their knowledge and experience.
2. Work Placement Information:
The Canada-Japan Co-op Program endeavors to provide each student with detailed information on their work location, dormitory address, dormitory conditions and work conditions such as living allowance, living expenses, job description, prior to the students’ arrival in Japan. The earlier we receive this information from the company, the more reassured and positive the student feels about his/her work term with that company.
3. Communication with the Student’s Supervisor:
We have found that it is very helpful if the student can communicate directly with his/her supervisor prior to coming to Japan. This can be accomplished via email; in this way the student can ask more specific questions about the nature of the work and the supervisor can begin to prepare the student for the project by giving them suggested readings, knowledge of the equipment they will be using and so on.
4. Company Orientation:
Although students are provided with some information about their employer prior to their arriving in Japan, unfortunately, most Canadians still know very little about Japanese corporate culture. It is very helpful if a company can provide an orientation session for the student shortly after his/her arrival. Orientation information could include such items as:
- Overview of the company organization, major products and research activities
- Introduction to group members and tour
- Hours or work
- List of company related sports and culture clubs
- Company holidays and vacation days
- Personal vacation policy
- Sick leave policy
- Company rules
- Emergency information
5. Buddy System:
We have found that is can be very helpful to assign a ‘buddy’ to the student for the first two to four weeks. A single co-worker living at the same dormitory would be an ideal person to help the student get adjusted to company life. Things a buddy can do include:
- Travel with the student to and from the dormitory
- Sit with the student during lunch
- Introduce the student to other co-workers
- Show the student around the neighbourhood
- Be available to answer any questions the student might have
- It is also desirable that the student be able to receive help from multiple persons with the work group, not just one person.
6. Provide the Student with an Email Account:
The Canada-Japan Co-op Program can maintain better contact with students who are able to have access to email. Students are advised that they are not permitted to use work email accounts for personal email.
In Japan, it is not usual to provide information or feedback to employees on their work performance, whereas in Canada it is common. As a result, Canadian students can become rather anxious and worried when placed in an environment where no information is given to them on the status of their work. Many students feel that when no feedback is provided it means that either they are doing a very bad job, or that the company doesn’t care about their work.
It would be helpful if students could be included in weekly meetings (even if they are in Japanese), as well as be given the opportunity to give regular updates on their project. It is helpful for the supervisor to think of the student as a necessary member of the team. The student also benefits from learning about the status of the activities within the team and how his/her project relates to the team’s projects. It is also very helpful for the student to submit a monthly progress report to his or her supervisor, which they can then discuss together. In this way, the student is able to receive some feedback on their progress. We hope that supervisors will feel comfortable giving feedback to students, both positive and negative.
We have also found that students perform best when given a project that is of interest and relevance to the company. Developing a clear project theme with project goals that can be attained by the student during the work term is important. Although students enjoy and are capable of independent research, it is helpful if their project is part of a bigger theme that involves other researchers. If the student is given a completely independent project with no opportunity to interact with other researchers, it is easy to feel isolated and lonely, leading to culture shock. It is also helpful if the supervisor or another researcher have knowledge on the project assigned to the student, so that questions can be answered and research guidelines given when needed. The results produced by the student will hopefully have ongoing value to the work group.