Co-op program’s costs affecting students
Job opportunities with a price gag
In 1969, the University of Regina launched its co-operative education program, the first in western Canada. Despite an initial focus on engineering students, over the past 50 years the program has significantly expanded to include students from all faculties. Within the co-op program, students complete at least three work terms, each of which is generally three to four months long, with an employer, or company focused in their field of interest or studies. As a result, students not only gain a break from their academic course load, but also gain valuable and paid work experience. Although the co-op program is similar to a practicum, or internship, it’s also different in three main ways. First, unlike both a practicum and internship, in which a wage is either rare, or non-existent, co-op students earn roughly $8,000 to $13,000 each work term according to statistics given by the university.
Second, in an internship or practicum, students obtain 12 to 16 months of experience with one employer or company. However, with a co-op placement, students gain the same amount of work experience, but with two to four different employers. Third, while an internship or practicum is more of an independent endeavour, co-op students receive much more initial support, advice and guidance from an advisor. Each faculty has a designated advisor in the co-op education department, responsible for helping students of that faculty.
When asked what role he plays in a student’s overall co-op experience, Science and Engineering Co-op Advisor, Carlo Palazzo, explained that he “helps students with their job search, works with them on their resume, so they can show their related skills to employers and conducts mock interviews.” In addition to helping co-op students, Palazzo also stated that co-op advisers also “market the program to outside employers and show the benefits of hiring a student.”
A recent business administration graduate, Erin Kwong, said her decision to pursue the co-op program was based on personal preference and societal expectations. “Even before I started university, many of my family and friends, who were either existing university students or graduates, [recommended that I] join the program. I thought it would be a great first stepping stone in my journey developing my professional career.”
In addition to its multiple benefits, there are also various important aspects to consider before signing up. A co-op placement will delay your expected graduation date by 12 to 16 months, but it is also not simply a job. Co-op students gain beneficial work experience, but not without a great deal of time and effort, both in and out of their job placements. At the end of their work term, students have to complete both a questionnaire and term report and must also be rated well by their employee in order to pass their co-op work placement.
Furthermore, it is important to realize that the co-op program is not free, but rather costs $920 for a four-month placement. Despite this high cost, Palazzo believes that “the benefits outweigh the costs,” since “all co-op placements give [students] paid full-time positions.” Palazzo also elaborated that the money covers, “staff salaries and benefits, travelling for marketing/recruitment, student/employer job site visits, plus everything else required to administer operate [this] program.”
Students should also consider that relocating for their co-op term may be a possibility if there are no available work options within the city. For example, one student had to move to another city in Saskatchewan and pay for his rent and food, which resulted in having much less money at the end of his term than he had initially anticipated.
Despite these important considerations and potential downsides, many students argue that the co-op program is beneficial, providing an opportunity to gain essential skills, knowledge and valuable experience otherwise not possible within their degree.
According to Kwong, despite her later graduation date, she felt that both her “experience and time within the program was valuable.” Not only was she able to gain “tangible benefits, like receiving a paycheque, but also “intangible benefits, like connecting and building relationships, [which] is vital to being successful in finding employment, because [often] it’s not what you know, [but rather],who you know.”
Additionally, through the co-op program students are able to explore possible career options. From their work placement, students are able to learn what working in their field of interest is like and can narrow down potential future careers based on whether or not they enjoyed their work. In some situations, students enjoy their work placement and discover that this type of work is what they want to do within their future career. This reality is emphasized by Palazzo’s statement that “quite a few [former co-op] students return to a previous employer.”
For new students entering the co-op program, my friend offers some advice. “Ask questions when you are unsure about something and don’t be afraid to be wrong. Sometimes. . . the best learning experiences can come [from making] and learning from your mistakes.”
While the fall term application deadline has already passed, all interested students can visit the career centre located in the Riddell Centre for more information regarding the next work placement in Spring/Summer 2020.