Co-op Programs Work!

Helping students find the right career.

Co-op Programs Work!

Photo: Katherine Sharpe


What better way for students to find out if they’re suited to a career than by trying it out during their high school years? That’s one of the perks of Cooperative Education programs, as 17-year-old Carly learned.

When Carly, in Grade 12, showed a keen interest in the medical field, her co-op teacher suggested a placement in a local medical centre. “I worked with a nurse practitioner,” Carly reports, “observing what she did daily and sitting in on appointments. At times, I got to measure the patient’s weight, height and blood pressure. I gained real insight into what the job entails.”

“The co-op program is a wonderful opportunity for students to explore a potential career, gain employability skills, and build self-confidence,” says teacher Katherine Sharpe. “Sometimes, after a work experience, students learn that a particular field is not for them, which is also important.”

Open to Grade 11 and 12 students (and those returning for a fifth year), co-op programs help kids acquire workplace related skills like punctuality, responsibility, and leadership. Placements usually last one semester. Co-op programs are also offered in Hospitality/Culinary Arts courses, the Specialist High Skills Major programs and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP).

A foot in the door

Co-op experience “gives a student a foot in the door that may lead to a summer job, future career or apprenticeship,” says Sharpe. High schools keep a database of businesses, organizations, and non-profits that regularly accept co-op students, including: hospitals, day cares, retirement homes, offices, manufacturing plants, veterinary clinics, hair salons, retail stores, restaurants, and more.

Ryan, 17, is employed for the summer by the very firm that offered him a co-op place-ment last term. He works in the repair shop of the firm, which sells and services heavy equipment. During his placement, Ryan received Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) safety training and is “working every day with loaders, excavators, bulldozers, trucks and coaches. I just love it,” he says.

And then there’s Matt Wyatt, 29, who has come full circle. Starting out as a co-op student in the food and hospitality industry, he is now a food supervisor in a retirement residence. His job includes staffing, preparing meals, ordering food, and managing a co-op student! Matt thinks co-op programs make it easier for students to get into an industry that requires ready-to-go job experience.

“Doing co-op at a restaurant really taught me so much,” he says. “I learned how to cook and bake and that speed matters, but it’s also important to be delicate with the food.” He welcomes the chance to give another co-op student a good head start.

Employers see skills

Sharpe says that some young people have trouble handling job interviews, especially if they’re quiet or don’t have a lot of confidence. “When employers get to know the student and see their abilities first hand – that they come to work on time and do a good job, it wins them over,” she says. “With so much competition for so few jobs, the co-op experience can give students the edge they need to stand out.”

Carly says her work at the medical centre was a great learning experience. “If I hadn’t done co-op, I would have been wondering whether I would like working in the medical field. I now realize that I love helping people. I’m enrolled in preparatory health sciences at a post-secondary institution next year.”

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; or

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