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
For participants of co-operative education this transition is a smoother
ride. Come graduation time, students who have passed through Concordias
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.
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.
Im 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 didnt
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.
Its 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. Its important for
academics to know the relevance of what theyre teaching, Webb
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, were 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 Id 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 wasnt much support
and I didnt 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 theyre 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, theyre confident, Webb said. When they walk across
the stage at graduation, they know exactly what theyre going to
The Co-op Institute welcomes queries from potential employers, including
departments of the university. For more information, please call 848-3975.