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PECO, A Model Co-op Employer

Rich Cornforth has spent nearly 40 years working at PECO, adapting to changes in the utility industry along the way. But he’s found that a fresh, outside perspective from talented Drexel students can result in solutions that have eluded even him. 

“Co-op students are just great resources,” says Cornforth, who runs the engineering department at the Philadelphia-based natural gas and electric utility. “They bring skills that they’ve clearly picked up in their studies — data analytics and understanding the latest data tools, stuff like that.” 

PECO has been hiring Drexel co-ops for four decades and is one of the most loyal members of Drexel’s co-op employer network. This is because at PECO, co-op students get real work done, and they are as valued as employees are. 

Cornforth has seen co-op students devise ways to automate rigorous tasks that have created lasting efficiencies by significantly reducing the time to complete them. 

The students learn productivity hacks at Drexel that they bring with them to the job, which helps PECO’s bottom line. But for the nearly 150 co-op students who work at PECO each year, there's always give and take. 

PECO puts its co-op students through a rigorous onboarding and off-boarding process that includes five training sessions and optional career workshops with résumé reviews and mock interview scenarios. At the end of their co-op period, each student delivers a poster presentation on the project they completed. And these projects aren’t just theoretical — some have gone on to see implementation and millions of dollars of funding. 

“We count on the co-ops to be productive members of the staff,” Cornforth says. “They do real work. They have real assignments. It’s almost like your six-month co-op term is a six-month-long job interview.” 

'...They bring skills we may not have...'

The company also hires interns from other local schools, but Cornforth says Drexel’s six-month-long co-op cycle is unique and builds in time for training and accomplishment. 

In fact, when Cornforth meets with company colleagues in other regions, he makes them jealous. 

“As we compared staffing levels, the number of people and the amount of work that would get done, my peers were like, ‘Well, that’s not fair, you have extra people. You’re getting work done but I can’t hire more full-time staff,’” he reminisces. “I said, ‘Well, that’s your fault. Hire co-ops.’”

Pictured above: Justin Sweeney, Gwynith Godin and Kunal Vinod Shukla are three of the nearly 150 Drexel co-op students PECO hired in 2019.

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