By Brandon Gillet
The University of Ottawa’s CO-OP program has had another impressive year, with students gaining real-world experience in close to 3,000 job placements in 2016, up almost 16% from last year. The number of placements provided through the Co-operative Education Programs has increased for the fourth consecutive year — and almost 40% since 2012.
Gaby St-Pierre, director of CO-OP at uOttawa, attributes the continuing success of the program — the second largest in Ontario — to a growing appetite from all sides for CO-OP experiences.
“There’s been a big demand for co-operative education, not only from students but also from employers,” he says. “We’ve created new programs to meet the demand, and now even have one program with mandatory CO-OP — software engineering.”
St-Pierre says 2016 has been “an excellent year because we had more applicants, placed more students and increased our placement rate, which is the best indicator of success.” This year, an additional 404 students were placed over 2015 numbers, for a total of 2,979 students in 2016 — almost a 95% placement rate.
As a bilingual university located in the nation’s capital, uOttawa is well positioned to help students take advantage of the push for “experiential and work-integrated learning at the university, municipal, provincial and federal level,” St-Pierre says.
The Canadian government recruits heavily from uOttawa due to a growing demand for bilingual candidates. According to St-Pierre, students in the social sciences, the second largest cohort of CO-OP applicants, may have an easier time finding local placements than students in some fields with fewer local job opportunities. Nonetheless, his office encourages all students to be open to adventure and to look beyond Ottawa. This year, 230 students worked in other cities across the country. And 104 went global.
Advantages of being mobile
CO-OP junior business developer Doug Spencer knows firsthand the advantages of taking a placement outside Ottawa. He completed a CO-OP term with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the team’s drive to the Stanley Cup finals in 2015.
He noted that students are supported in making such a move, with a Blackboard Learn module helping them keep track of the steps involved as they prepare for a national or international placement.
From his current vantage point at the CO-OP office, Spencer has noticed a growing interest in placements beyond Ottawa. “For example, students in some of our financial programs want to go to major hubs like Montreal or Toronto,” he says.
There are six faculties offering CO-OP programs, along with an increasing number of career development workshops, learning modules and other supports to help launch students on successful career paths.
The most important benefit of a placement, Spencer says, comes from the experiential learning. Any work experience can provide transferrable skills, but CO-OP gives students a chance to try out a job in their chosen field, for a real taste of what it’s going to be like once they enter the workforce.
“For my part, I noticed how my communication skills improved while working in Tampa Bay,” he says. “It’s the difference between texting with your friends and writing professional emails, for example, which I do often in my current position. CO-OP helped me go from the mentality of a student to that of a young professional.”
Related article: CO-OP: Test-driving the future