I’ve recently had another request from a company with a tight budget to engage some of our students on a worthwhile project. I’m very keen on helping students get involved in real world projects while they are still studying. There is great value in that for them. They get experience and the opportunity for a good reference. Frequently, they also get a portfolio item, something they can point to and say, “I worked on that.”
Unfortunately, the latter is often the only thing of value that is offered them when a company seeks student labor to do something they would ordinarily have to pay a professional to do. I advise students against doing something solely “because it will look good in your portfolio!”. They have many opportunities to create something for their portfolio through school projects and co-op placements.
What is more valuable to them is a legitimate work experience, not an exploitative one. Students have up to date skills that they are bringing to the employer, skills that they’ve paid a great deal in money, time, effort, and often stress to acquire. They should be paid for their time. Our co-op employers not only pay students a fair wage, but they provide other opportunities such as on the job training, mentoring, and occasionally bonuses.
Exploiting students because you have a tight budget is simply not acceptable. Be creative; pay them something and sweeten the pot for them. Can you provide bus passes or free products/software? Will they get extraordinary access to senior people in your company to learn things we cannot teach in school? Will you commit to giving them a reference, and refer them to other companies for better paid work?
Make it worth their while to help you out, and you will not only get top quality work from eager and motivated people, but you’ll be establishing a valuable relationship as well. See the opportunity as an investment in their future AND yours. Your reputation will grow as well. In this climate of widespread social media, you want people as connected as students to say good things about your company and help build good will. You can’t put a price on that, and it’s worth every penny.