A chance encounter at a career fair changed the way Amir Maymay mapped out his college experience. That was the first time the Georgia Tech senior learned about co-op programs, which allow students to leave the classroom for a summer or a semester to work full time in their chosen career field.
Maymay, an industrial engineering major, got his first taste of the real world during a co-op with a small firm in 2012. In June he started his second co-op at Georgia-Pacific Corp. The Atlanta-based manufacturing company has offered the 21-year-old an entirely different perspective on his industry.
“I liked that Georgia-Pacific is a big and private company with long-term goals,” he said. “Now, as I’ve learned more about the products they make, I’ve come to feel even more positive about the company.”
Working 40 hours a week in the company’s supply chain program has given Maymay a chance to put his classroom skills to practical use on projects such as procuring natural gas resources. At the same time it’s building his résumé and helping Maymay discover whether he wants to work in the field after graduation.
“In this day and age, an internship or legitimate work experience is almost a necessity, so having worked before graduation is definitely a plus,” he said. “And you get a glimpse at the inside of the company — the products it makes, the career paths there, how it fits in the industry.”
On the other side of the co-op equation is the employer, which often uses the co-op or internship program to fill job openings. Molly Gregware, Georgia-Pacific’s college recruiting manager, leads a team of four recruiters that hires about 400 students each year at the company’s facilities around the country.
The paid co-op slots often double as tryouts for future employment. Gregware said the company hires about 60 percent of its co-op students as employees.
“In an interview, the focus is on skills and knowledge, and you can only learn so much,” Gregware said. “Hiring interns gives us a way to see their soft skills and helps us understand how they’ll fit into our culture and embrace our business philosophies. It’s an in-depth look at a candidate for us, and it gives them more in-depth knowledge of what we do here.”
Those in-depth looks come from assigning co-op students to six-month assignments on projects the company is actively working on.
“The students are doing real work; it’s not busy work or coffee runs,” Gregware said. “They spend the first few weeks diving into the Georgia-Pacific culture and learning what their group does. Then the projects they work on are real issues Georgia-Pacific is working on. For example, it could be an in-depth analysis of a new vendor or system that they see through from beginning to end.”
The co-op program is supported by designated sponsors who hold managers accountable for creating real-world projects.
“We want to ensure that these projects bring value to the intern and Georgia-Pacific,” Gregware said. “In addition, each co-op has a mentor who is there to support them during their stay.”
In the 15 years that Georgia-Pacific has offered co-op positions, they have grown in popularity with students, Gregware said.
“The feedback we get from our co-ops is that they’re getting real work experience and can apply what they are learning in school,” she said. “That’s really one of our biggest selling points.”
Making those connections from the classroom to a real company was the top reason Maymay sought out a co-op experience.
“There is only so much you can get out of reading or hearing about a field,” he said.