Terri-Jane Yuzda

U of A Co-op Program Grows
to 1,100 Work Terms Annually


University of Alberta
Student Contributor


The University of Alberta Engineering Co-op Program, now well known to most students and employers, is one of the finest ways to meld what students learn in the classroom with what the working world has to offer. And not only has co-op been a benefit to universities and students, but it has also provided employers with another way to recruit young minds and prepare them for post-graduation.

Founded in 1906 at the University of Cincinnati's faculty of engineering, co-op was set in place to help students learn what they could not in a classroom or lab. It was created as another way for students to get the hands-on experience to be more fully prepared to enter the engineering workforce upon graduation.

I met with Dr. Ken Porteous, P.Eng., Associate Dean, Student and Co-op Services, in September to discuss the program. It began at the U of A in 1981 and there were two reasons that it was set into motion, he explained.

The first was that during this time, the University of Waterloo in Ontario was sending between 200 and 250 students to Alberta per year on co-op work terms. With the engineering program at the U of A, Alberta employers couldn't see why they had to recruit from Eastern Canada.

The second reason was that U of A grads found themselves at a disadvantage, competing with grads with 20 months of work experience through a co-op program.

So with the help of a government grant, the U of A co-op program took root. Since 1981, co-op has grown to more than 1,100 work terms per year.

Also, with the last parts of an expansion taking place in the program, expected to be complete within five years, the engineering program will find more than 50 per cent of the placements in the traditional program moved into co-op.

At that point, it is expected that more than 1,500 work terms will be provided per year. This availability of the choice to take either a traditional four-year degree or the co-op five-year degree is one of the details that makes U of A co-op so important.

Also worth mentioning: "The quality of our engineering students is as good as or better than that at any other engineering school," said Dr. Porteous.

Beyond reinforcing the concepts learned in the classroom, co-op provides students an environment with more technical materials. Even junior students on their first or second work term are involved to some degree in a hands-on way. Senior students often have a more involved role with their co-op companies.

Co-op also provides a way for students to see the inner workings of an engineering environment. And students learn to be comfortable with other employees, who may not be engineers but have essential skill sets that young engineers need to learn to appreciate. "Today, more than ever, engineering is about being able to communicate," said Dr. Porteous. Learning to communicate with all types of co-workers is a key essential of co-op.

Co-op also helps students choose their career. Different companies have different corporate cultures. It is important that students find a culture that they enjoy and fit into. "Co-op is not only learning things about engineering, it's also about learning things about yourself," said Dr. Porteous.

The way that students find co-op jobs varies and has recently been reconfigured. It used to be that students looking for co-op jobs would read through a book called Co-opportunities, which listed available jobs. Recently, all those jobs have been posted in a recruitment management system called Place-Pro. Students can now find all available jobs online as well as apply for these jobs, request an interview and see if an interview has been granted.

Gone are the days of digging deep into the student budget to mail resumes. In addition to this system, students are free to search for their work-term jobs on their own accord, through their own contacts or through Career and Placements Services, an on-campus summer job bank.

The only stipulations are that work terms must be engineering related and, if they're senior work terms, discipline-specific.

To ensure placements are available, full-time coordinators with the U of A Faculty of Engineering spend much of their time job developing. Coordinators meet with the regular employer base already committed to the co-op program, as well as search for employers not yet involved.

Although these coordinators do their best to ensure maximum placement, "the Achilles heel of any of these work experience programs is the economy," said Dr. Porteous. Lately, it has been difficult to reach 100-per-cent placement.

As it gets more difficult to find jobs, not only the placements go down. The quality of the work found can be compromised. But through networking and active recruitment, co-op coordinators are continually working to reach 100 per cent placement of the students every work-term.


Visit http://info.engg-coop.ualberta.ca



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