Or take the story of Katie Fedosenko, who graduated in 2011 with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from UBC. Katie came into the co-op program wanting to explore career options for an English Literature graduate. She started co-op organizing major fundraising events for a large, local non-profit, the BC Lung Association, taking initiative to learn new computer design programs. With this experience, she secured another co-op job as a web communicator in the Communications Office at the University of BC’s largest faculty, Arts. With experience writing online articles, profiles, and social media outreach, Katie secured a job shortly after graduation as Communications Coordinator in the Corporate Affairs department of Tech Resources, Canada’s largest mining company.Katie’s co-op work terms were pivotal in helping her distinguish herself from other English Literature graduates, and make connections that led to work after graduation.
The University of Waterloo’s co-op program, with over 19,000 placements last year, is the largest and oldest in Canada, but many other universities and colleges offer co-op programs too. Canada’s strong ecosystem of co-op programs stems in part from the fact that we are the only country in the world with a national accreditation system for co-op programs, run by the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education. This has helped Canada grow consistently high quality programs in virtually every region of the country.
Co-op programs help businesses succeed by giving them a way to hire highly motivated, smart co-op students to support business innovation, and then feed their talent pipelines for permanent hires. David McKay, President and CEO of one the Royal Bank of Canada, one of Canada’s largest financial institutions, says that “co-op education has become a proven way to prepare students for a world in which change is accelerating and challenges are growing ever more complex. They’re essential to our creative and disruptive economy”. And McKay makes the important point that co-op programs can also act as a “social leveler” by giving students from diverse backgrounds who may not have “the cultural and family ties that sometimes lead ot the first job” a chance to “get their foot through the employment door”.
As Canadian universities continue to innovate and seek ways to work in partnership with local, national, and international organizations, co-operative education has the potential to play an even greater role in bridging the classroom and the work world, preparing the next generation of university graduates to take on the complex challenges of the 21st century. Perhaps other countries can learn from the educational and business benefits of co-operative education here in Canada and look to develop similar programs themselves.