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May 9, 2002 Co-op programs benefit both students and employers



Christine Webb

Program Director Christine Webb

by Eliot Buchan

To many, graduation represents the closing of a chapter. After years of study, university life ends and graduates take a tentative step into the working world.

For participants of co-operative education this transition is a smoother ride. Come graduation time, students who have passed through Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education have a wealth of work experience, a list of connections and a good idea of what lies in store for them out in the real world.

Extensive training

Like many university courses offering work experience, co-operative education combines paid training in the workplace with academic study. However, unlike a typical internship, time spent on the job is extensive. Usually, four work sessions of at least 12 weeks each are spread evenly throughout a four-year program.

“I’m really glad I chose this program. Leaving university with 16 months of work experience is a great opportunity, especially for my field of study,” said Marie-Line Taillon, a third-year student in actuarial mathematics. “Before going to Concordia, I didn’t know much about actuarial maths. I learned more with each semester, but I really got a complete picture with my first work term.”

Taillon has completed three of the four required work terms working in insurance and reinsurance, and last fall, she was a consultant in Paris.

“Without these experiences, I would have chosen my first job without knowing if it was the right field for me,” Taillon said. “It was also a fabulous way to discover how my future profession is practised in another country.”

It’s not just the students who benefit, according to program director Christine Webb. She described the three-way interaction between the employer, the university and the student as a synergy, in which the end result is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

As well as connecting students with the workplace, the co-op program serves as an interface between academics and employers, and addresses an issue commonly overlooked by many universities. “It’s important for academics to know the relevance of what they’re teaching,” Webb said.

A boon to employers

For employers, the co-op program allows them to trial-run students, with no obligation to hire. However, Renée Couture, of Towers Perrin, said that “the majority of people that we hire are from co-op programs. More and more, we’re seeing that through co-op students, we get our reputation and our best workers,” she said.

Couture has seen co-op education from both sides of the fence. For four years she hired co-op interns at her current workplace and was also a former student in the program.

Reflecting on her own days as a co-op student, she said, “It was an excellent experience, and I’d definitely do it again.” This is despite the atmosphere being less than ideal at two of her tenures. “One of the places was a bit rough. There wasn’t much support and I didn’t even have a seat or a computer.”

That was eight years ago, and much has changed since then, Couture added. Now employers are trying to impress the students as much as vice versa.

The high regard employers show for Concordia co-op students can be attributed to the fact that they’re hand-picked from many applicants. Students selected for the program must be bilingual, have a good academic history and perform well in an interview.

In addition, they’re confident, Webb said. “When they walk across the stage at graduation, they know exactly what they’re going to do.”

The Co-op Institute welcomes queries from potential employers, including departments of the university. For more information, please call 848-3975.