Co-operative education has been putting education to work in Canada for well over 50 years. March 16, 2015 marks the start of Co-operative Education Week, a week dedicated to celebrating co-op successes and student achievements across the country.
What is Co-op and How Can It Benefit Your Business?
Co-operative education (co-op) is an innovative learning strategy that allows students to alternate academic terms with paid work terms in positions related to their fields of study. Employers, students and the university all play a part in the co-op process.
Co-op is a win-win: Students gain relevant work experience, while employers like you benefit from students’ energy, fresh ideas, knowledge and skills.
How Popular is Co-op?
The University of Victoria (UVic) Co-op Program opened its doors in 1976, pioneering the first program of its kind in western Canada. Since then, it has shown no signs of slowing down. Co-op plays a major role in the UVic experience, with 35 per cent of students taking part.
In the 2014–15 year, The University of Victoria made 3,250 co-op placements in sectors as diverse as arts and culture, business, engineering, science, healthcare, law and more. Of these placements, 2,380 were made with employers right here in BC—and sixty-four percent were with private businesses or the non-profit sector.
A Case Study: Home Energy Solutions
Home Energy Solutions (HES) is a Victoria-based solar electricity engineering and supply company with over 25 years’ experience in the Canadian solar industry. They provide a variety of solar electric solutions for residential, commercial and industrial applications and have warehouses in Victoria and Vancouver as well as Toronto and Barrie, Ontario.
HES has been hiring two or more co-op students from the University of Victoria every term for the past seven years, and they’ve been a resounding success. “Hiring students has been a great asset to our company’s success and growth rate,” says Ed Knaggs, Vice-President of HES. “They are a highly intelligent, very diverse and seasonally adjustable workforce.”
Skills and Adaptability
Engineering co-op students at HES have worked on a variety of projects—from designing an off-grid power system for a backwoods cabin to a photovoltaic water heating system to a charger for electric cars. “The co-op students bring a new outlook on industry and up-to-date skills on software,” says Ed. “Students who work with HES are put through a wide variety of tasks—from manufacturing mounts or electrical assemblies to complex wiring diagrams and 3D models of large solar plants.”
A Window on Recruitment
For HES, co-op has been a valuable tool for recruiting new employees. “We’ve had a really diverse set of students come through HES for work experience, and this has helped us hone our ability to seek out permanent employees that are the right match for our company,” says Ed. Some students have been invited to return to work with HES after graduation, bringing with them the hands-on experience gained through previous co-op terms with HES and other employers.