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Published: 20 Nov, 2018

A collaboration worth building on

FEATURE What does one do when the construction industry is screaming for labour, students are seeking work placements and greater demands for societal benefits in the University’s educational offerings? One solution is to focus on Co-op (Cooperative Education).

The co-op model means that educational institutions and employers cooperate to allow students to combine their studies with paid periods of work. This year, a dozen regional construction companies have for the first time taken on the concept together with the Bachelor of Science Programme in Civil Engineering. And everyone is positive.

"Co-op feels like a good way to market ourselves to the students, demonstrate what we are doing and hopefully recruit some new employees," says Emma Hörnfeldt, site manager at Svevia in Umeå.

She thinks that the Co-op initiative has arrived at the ideal time. The construction industry is screaming for skilled workers, especially in structures. To offer students a kind of mini-trainee programme already during the period of education increases the chances of being able to employ them on day-one after graduation.

"Furthermore, I think it is very important, even for the students, to obtain this realistic aspect early on for future jobs," explains Emma.

About half of the class has received a Co-op placement. Most come directly from secondary school or they have worked with something completely different before. Such as Emma's adept, former postal worker Jesper Lakso.

"I'm so glad that I began studying last year! When I applied for civic engineering, I was somewhat disappointed that the programme did not offer any work placement. Now, I have worked for eight weeks at Svevia, gained very useful experience and insight into how the construction industry works."

The plan is to become a supervisor or site manager. But to be good, it's important to learn the operation from the ground up. That's why Jesper has been out in the field and tried everything practical, from switching culverts to repairing railings on the E4 motorway. A more managerial role is waiting next year – and he is looking forward to planning his own commission.

"To me, Co-op is an awesome bonus and an extra carrot to succeed in school. It's encouraging to get a foot into a company where I would like to work in the future."

Programme Manager Frederick Häggström states with satisfaction that the Co-op students feel very motivated and, thanks to their newly acquired experience, participate more actively in lessons. He also sees the collaboration as an excellent opportunity to capture the construction industry's views on the education.

"We want to make sure that we actually offer what companies are requesting today, and not knowledge that was relevant 20-30 years ago."

At the same time, he acknowledges that everything was a little nervous at the beginning. The programme was understaffed. Could they handle more work?

"Co-op is currently in place at four programmes within the Faculty of Science and Technology. But we also see great opportunities to develop the concept in studies in the social sciences and humanities," says Co-op coordinator Anna-Lill Drugge.

"Though thanks to the University's Co-op coordinators, Katarina Henriksson and Anna-Lill Drugge, it has gone really well," continues Frederick Häggström. "They have done everything from booking meetings between companies and students to holding courses on writing a CV."

With the support of this resource, the construction industry hopes to continue to invest in Co-op.

"I think there would be very gloomy faces in the next class if they did not get the same chance," concludes Fredrik Häggström with a laugh.

Current Co-op companies

Balticgruppen, NCC Sverige, Peab Anläggning, Peab Sverige, Ramböll Sverige, Selbergs Entreprenad, Skanska Sverige, Svevia, Sweco Structures, TM Konsult, Tyréns and WSP Sverige.

Text: Lena Holmberg
Translation: David Meyers
Photo: Mattias Pettersson

This article was first published in the magazine Aktum no. 2 2018.