Co-operative Education (Co-op) is a growing program across North American Universities and Colleges. Students from a wide range of disciplines spend several semesters alternating academic studies with working in paid positions in their field of study. In preparation for post graduate life, students must apply and interview for jobs during the academic semester before their scheduled work term. Often there is fierce competition for certain jobs not only between students in the same program, but also from students in related fields of study and students from other schools. There is no guarantee that a student will be selected for a role by the time they are scheduled to start their work term.
Once accepted to a role, students must get up to speed with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful as they typically only have 4-8 months in which to prove their worth. Just like regular employees, co-op students can be terminated for things like misconduct and poor work ethic. Some co-op students also have to submit a formal report to their academic adviser at the end of their work term based on a topic they worked on or learnt about during that time. This report is reviewed by their employer who also writes an evaluation on the student’s work performance.
While ultimately co-op students enter the program to gain practical work place skills in their field of study, many employers find that co-op students also make significant contributions to the company during their time there. They bring a new perspective to problems, often playing key roles in developing solutions.
Focal Point Research Inc. has hired 14 co-op students over the past 6 years. These students have come from the academic fields of Toxicology, Biochemistry, Biological & Medical Physics, as well as Post Graduate studies. Members of FPR’s team, as well as past and present co-op students discuss their experiences with the program.
What is the best part about the co-op program?
“For me, the best part about co-op is the hands-on experience. Experience is key in the career world right now. I know so many people who have graduated from a good school with an impressive degree and a great average but are struggling to find jobs right out of school because they lack in experience. Co-op has taught me the value in experience and gave me an understanding of what real-life jobs are like in the industry that I aimed to be a part of throughout my entire undergrad. Many millennials are doing the “Side-Hustle” right now, working at jobs that are nowhere near related to the industry they wanted to work in after school…or have no job at all.”
“The best part about the co-op program is that it really broadens the areas you are exposed to that you wouldn’t normally see during academic classes. Although I am a science major, I have worked with teams that have helped me gain experience in the areas of marketing, media communications, and agriculture. This exposure has really helped me find a way to turn my passion for writing into a viable career option while staying in the science industry.”
“Some valuable skills that I have acquired while working at my co-op jobs are professionalism and time management/organization. Working in these real-life jobs has taught me how to act professionally in the sense of communication with fellow employees and people you may deal with outside of the office (such clients), but also how to present yourself in a professional way. This is a super important skill to have and co-op has really helped me develop that skill. As well, time management is an important skill to have, no matter if you are working or still in school. I found that juggling my everyday co-op job work as well as completing online classes and all the other co-op tasks, such as the work term report, all at the same time has really taught me the value in time management as well as organization.”
“One of the most valuable skills I have developed through co-op is problem solving. Often, the problems encountered in the workplace are quite different from those we are typically doing in class. I have learnt about large scale problems that many industries are currently facing, as well as the steps that various groups are taking to try to solve these problems. Working in R&D teams has taught me how to analyse a problem and logically develop a potential solution, as well as how to explain the rationale behind it. I have also learnt how to look at a product from the consumer’s viewpoint and offer practical suggestions on how to improve it.”
“Taking part in the co-op programs brings a new perspective and enthusiasm with each student, along with great new ideas. We have access to highly talented and motivated students that are eager to learn and work. The students we have hired are very efficient in their work and their innovative thinking can help enhance our productivity within the business.”
Layne L’Abbé is a past co-op student who has returned to work at FPR full time as an RA & QA Associate after receiving her Hons. B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Guelph.
Anna Schwanke is completing her Hons. B.Sc. in Biological & Medical Physics at the University of Guelph and is currently on an 8 month work term as a Scientific & Regulatory Affairs Intern at Focal Point Research Inc.
Jennifer Porter is the General Manager of Focal Point Research Inc. who also acts as the co-op student’s supervisor during their work term at FPR.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Focal Point Research Inc.