Why Co-op Programs Should be a Mandatory Component of Almost All University Programs

A Laurier door plaque reading "Career Development Centre, Co-operative Education, Community Service Learning.:

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SARA SHEIKH / SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY

What is the main reason most people decide to pursue a university education? 

 

While there is certainly the benefit of general intellectual development occurring over the four years spent interacting with peers and faculty, I think it’s safe to say that most of us who decided to pursue a university degree are hoping that it will aid us in launching a good career.

 

Given that success in the workforce is the ultimate goal most of us are striving for, co-op work terms should be a component of most, if not all, university degree programs. There are a number of reasons why this should be the case.

 

Reason #1: Co-op programs give students a wonderful opportunity to apply theoretical classroom concepts practically. There is no better way to learn about the demands and daily inner workings of a particular career path than by actually working that particular job. 

 

Being proficient in the academic sphere does not necessarily ensure success in a work environment. Co-op terms encourage the development of both soft and hard skills that may not be learned in an academic setting. That’s not to say that the theories and concepts we learn in school aren’t also important, but what are we supposed to do with all of that theoretical knowledge after graduation? There is no better way to gain a complete understanding of these concepts we learn about in school than by actually working on projects out in the “real world.” 

 

This brings me to the second reason co-op should be standard in university programs; co-op enables students to gain work experience before it’s time for us to “cut the cord” and be done with our formal education. This seems to be an underappreciated benefit of making co-op part of the typical university degree. Co-op provides students with a sort of sandbox to learn in; co-op coordinators are assigned to check up on students and make sure they’re doing alright as they navigate the workforce for the first time. I know that I feel a lot more secure tackling my first corporate-type job knowing that the university is there to help ensure that I succeed.

 

For example, in my program (Business Technology Management), two essentially guaranteed co-op sequences are integrated right into the degree layout. I understand that guaranteed co-op in every program is impractical purely from a supply and demand standpoint. BTM maxes out at about 40 students in second year by the time co-op applications are coming around. But even having the help from Laurier in finding a co-op is vastly helpful. 

 

What is most helpful, though, is having access to a database of jobs that are only available to co-op students at various universities. Perhaps this responsibility of selecting jobs for university students also falls on companies. Hiring young people still pursuing their degree presents a win-win situation. The company is able to have “first dibs” over a young pool of bright new members of the workforce while university students gain knowledge and connections that they would have otherwise not had. 

 

Furthermore, co-op provides a wonderful opportunity for students to continue and enhance their education without feeling so crushed under the weight of academic pressures. 

 

Reason #3 co-op should be standard in university programs? Even the minimum 4-month co-op term offers students a nice break from school while they can still work towards their career goals. I am beyond happy to be working as a co-op student at CIBC for the next 6 months. Beyond just learning a lot about various business and technology processes/projects, I’m getting paid to do so. For essentially every university student out there, working full-time hours is a Godsend. That’s not to say that there aren’t some students who are working towards a degree purely for the educational factor and not simply to get a decent job afterwards. This is entirely understandable if you have the resources and the drive to be able to do so. However, many of us are in a situation where even just getting a job afterwards (or during) our degree to help pay off our student loans is a critical necessity. 

 

Beyond that, co-op enables students to understand different potential careers related to their field of study that they haven’t previously considered. Let’s use my current co-op as an example. While I’m still a bit too young to know exactly what job I specifically want to pursue long-term, there is a great chance I will remain at CIBC as I try out different roles within the broad fields of business and/or technology. As long as the student is a good employee and the employer provides a good learning environment, the idea of a university co-op term is nothing but beneficial to all parties involved. 

 

If you need a fourth reason as to why co-ops should be the standard rather than the exception in university programs, here it is: co-ops allow students to network with people who work in an industry of interest and explore options they didn’t even know existed. It is the case in basically every industry that who you know will get you farther than anything else. It is important to make solid connections in the workforce if you have ambitious (or even not-so-ambitious) career goals. I am consistently told by multiple parties at my job that I am almost guaranteed to get hired after I graduate for no other reasons than because they already know me, and that I am familiar with the inner workings of the company. 

 

To summarize, offering the opportunity for students to gain work experience that relates to their field of study is one of the most valuable educational tools that universities can provide to their students. We can only hope that universities and companies alike recognize the importance of incorporating co-op terms into as many degrees as possible. Everyone – especially students – will be better off for it.

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