Students during their internship in a laboratory | Credit: Marc Robitaille. Picture provided by Laval University’s placement centre
Internships are as beneficial to companies as they are to the interns. They allow students to experience the day-to-day running of an operation, acquire
and improve skills, grow their knowledge base and establish industry contacts that will serve them throughout their careers. Internships also give
employers the opportunity to see students in action, train them to their standards with a goal of potentially recruiting them as future employees. So, in
light of all these benefits, why is it that so many companies send HR personnel instead of engineers to universities to do their recruiting?
As president of my university’s chemical engineering student society, I monitored all of the internships my colleagues completed throughout the past two
years. In response to numerous negative comments from students about the hiring process, the difficulty in reaching supervisors before the internships
began and not being assigned hands-on tasks, I, along with the university’s placement centre and the chemical engineering department, looked into
identifying the root cause of the problems. One of the commonalities we discovered was that all of the “unsuccessful” internships were carried out at
companies who had sent HR personnel to the campus to do their recruiting.
With this in mind, I contacted these companies and suggested that, in the future, it might be beneficial to send engineers to recruit students. Although
the idea had already occurred to them, I was told that it is easier to send HR personnel because engineers often work at great distances from university
campuses and as such, their work schedules didn’t allow for the time away.
Very few companies seem to truly understand the importance of sending the right people — the ones who can actually speak about the specifics of a job when
talking to students. Some even send young HR personnel and equip them with informational lists, but again, their knowledge of the specifics is limited.
Sticking to useless criteria, forgetting important aspects of a job, not knowing explicitly what a supervisor is looking for; these all affect the success
of recruitment efforts. Based on my observations, when HR personnel recruit students, the success rate of student-company pairings hovers around 10 per
cent. However, when engineers do the recruiting, success levels are much higher, with some exceptions, of course.
I am convinced that it would be beneficial to companies to invest their engineers’ time in recruitment efforts. I also think that the best people to send
are the young engineers, having recently graduated from university themselves — they know the ins and outs of the job and know what information matters
most to students. However, they do need to be open to speaking with candidates in other fields, as jobs could easily be accessible to students in other
disciplines. If costs are a factor for employers, they could approach recruitment fair participation logistically, piggybacking it to employee vacation
In the face of a human resources crisis, there has never been a better time for companies to revisit their approach to recruiting. Finding the right fit
for the right job will save the company time and money in the long term. It is an investment worth making.
Kévin Breault is a chemical engineering student at Université Laval graduating in December 2010. He based this article on his past experience with HR personnel in his two consecutive roles as president of the student society.