By Elaine Smith
Beginning in September 2024, students in all programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) at York University will have the option to choose to enrol in a paid co-op program as they pursue their education.
Previously, said Neil Buckley, associate dean of teaching and learning for LA&PS, the Faculty had internships associated with its programs, but internships in general aren’t well-defined; some are for credit, some are paid and some are voluntary, leaving students and employers confused.
“With the transition from an optional internship to an optional co-op program, people will understand that the co-op is a paid work-integrated learning (WIL) experience that is related to a student’s area of studies,” Buckley said. “It will help us to better communicate this opportunity to students and allow them to communicate with future employers exactly what their WIL means.”
Fahimeh Ehsani, manager of employer engagement for LA&PS, said the Faculty wants to ensure that students are compensated for their work, and the change to co-op programs addresses any confusion, because co-op programs are traditionally paid work terms.
“When students are choosing York, they will know that they can contribute toward their tuition, which makes a difference,” Ehsani said. “It was immediately obvious to us at this fall’s Ontario Universities Fair. One of the main questions parents asked was, ‘Do you have a co-op option?’ We are hoping that it will bring us more prospective students.”
Buckley said that a 2020 report written by the C.D. Howe Institute supports the value of co-op programs, noting that Canadian university graduates from such programs are significantly more likely to get a first job that is closely related to their field of study, and three years afterward they have significantly better incomes than those students who don’t participate. In addition, regardless of their employment status, three years after graduation they have significantly lower debt levels than non-co-op students.
The introduction of an optional co-op system will allow students to participate in WIL earlier in their educational career, beginning in the second year, rather than the third or fourth. They will have the opportunity for more work terms, experience and remuneration before leaving university as a result and more opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom, ultimately making them more competitive in the workplace.
“Co-operative Education & Work-Integrated Learning Canada also says that it’s essential for students to have a study term between each work placement so they have time to reflect on what they’ve learned,” Buckley said. “We incorporate reflection into the co-op process so that students can integrate workplace experience and practise with the theory they learn in the classroom; it’s completing the loop.”
Ehsani views co-ops as valuable in helping students decide what type of work suits them.
“Co-ops open their eyes to multiple career paths,” she said. “They can also help students land full-time jobs. They are often offered jobs by co-op employers; it makes their recruitment easier to hire a known candidate who does good work. For students, this can be a relief, because finding jobs is extremely stressful.
“In any case, successful co-op placements demonstrate that they have skills and are ready to learn, employers are ready to mentor and train them.”
Before students begin their co-op terms, LA&PS’s co-op team prepares them with some non-credit training, addressing soft skills, resume preparation and what to expect in the workplace.
“Our students compete with those from other schools, so support from our team is valuable,” Ehsani said.
Ehsani is busy working with various other Faculties and the Career Centre to bring recruiters to campus and will work with employers to get feedback about how the program could be improved or which other courses might augment a student’s career potential.
“Many students are just in a hurry to finish their degrees, but they may end up behind,” says Buckley. “Experience on their resumes is often worth the extra year or two until graduation, especially since that experience is paid. We are excited for this transition and looking forward to welcoming all LA&PS students to our optional co-op program next fall.”