In a recent article in one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail, technology reporter Shane Dingman looks at the positive forces reshaping the Kitchener-Waterloo region in Canada in the wake of tech giant Blackberry’s decline, interviewing several entrepreneurs who are leading what he calls “Waterloo’s next wave.” When asked why the Kitchener-Waterloo region is one of the best places in the world to build a technology company, Ted Livingston, CEO of chat app Kik, Canada’s largest homegrown social media company, headquartered in Waterloo, says: “that one thing, and the one thing only, is the co-op program at the University of Waterloo”.
What is co-operative education, and how does it help businesses to succeed?
Many Canadian universities offer co-operative education programs as a way for students to combine hands-on work related to their degree programs with classroom learning. Students combine theory with practice, resulting in deeper learning of concepts. Students usually do between 3-6 four-month, full-time, paid work terms as part of their degree requirements, sometimes working with one company for all work terms, sometimes trying different jobs.
A typical co-op student will do one year of university study, and then go on a 4 or 8-month full-time, paid co-op term, then return to studies, and then repeat the cycle again. Co-op students usually take 5 years to complete their undergraduate degrees, rather than the typical 4, but they graduate with substantial experience on their resumes, a network of professional contacts which often will lead to a job offer at or soon after graduation, and lower debt loads, sometimes even money in the bank.
And at larger co-op schools, like mine at the University of British Columbia, about 10% of our 4600+ placements each year are outside of Canada, so students can also gain international work experience as part of their co-op program, broadening their perspectives and career options.
A good example of the power of co-operative education is UBC Engineering Co-op student Jenn Bhatla who, on an Engineering Co-op term in India, feels she found her calling as an engineer.
After an initial work term with the oil and gas sector at Devon Energy, in Alberta, where she explored how the fundamentals of her Engineering courses could apply in the real world, Bhatla decide to push herself by working with Child Haven International, a program based on Gandhian principles that operates India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Tibet, and assists children and women in developing countries who are in need of support.
Her work with Child Haven triggered an interest in medicine, and once again Bhatla is using Co-op as a tool to help her finesse her career decision-making process. Her winter-session position, at the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at the University of Calgary, will be her first time working in research and another step in her path to discovering the right fit for her talents and passions — which will ultimately lead her to fulfill Confucius’ belief: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.