Canada: Developing A Strong Co-op Education Program

Last Updated: June 9 2015
Article by Candace Surette

A new year always brings  opportunities for a fresh start.  That feeling is certainly felt around all Crowe MacKay offices, where during the first weeks of January, the fresh crop of Co-operative Education Program (co-op) students from local post-secondary schools start their work term.  Initially, the students, with their slightly dazed looks, are easily identifiable as they dive into accounting outside the classroom.  A co-op program is a win-win scenario for both the student and the firm and getting involved is simpler than you might think.  

Christine Wasilieff, MBA CPA, CGA and controller for Canoe Forest products Ltd. (CFP) recently hired a co-op forestry student from Thomson Rivers University (TRU) to work in the company's accounting department.  Located just outside Salmon Arm, CFP produces superior quality Canadian softwood sheathing and specialty plywood products under the trademark CANOE brand®

We took a few minutes of Christine's time to speak to her about the co-op experience. 

What made you decide to hire a co-op student?

Due to changes in the accounting department we wanted to hire a short term employee; however, we wanted the employee to also receive a benefit.  We realized that an eight month co-op would allow a student to gain practical experience and move smoothly back to their degree program with improved skills and abilities.  And after completing their degree, the student could take those skills to the local community and apply them in  a career in the forestry industry.

Reflecting on the company's experience with co-op education, were there any surprising benefits for the company?

Working with the co-op student coordinators, we had access to potential future employees offering enthusiasm and a quest for learning while striving to apply the business concepts taught at TRU. This challenged the accounting department to review processes and share best practices while also learning some tips and  techniques on training  and information sharing  with the new employee. 

Being involved in the TRU's co-op education program was a success in the administration department. CFP has now hired a co-op student to work in our forestry department and other business segments have or will also hire co-op students. Moving forward, we plan to integrate further involvement in co-op programs into our operations.      

While Canoe had an immediate, short-term need, a co-op education program  can also become integrated into a firm's long-term growth strategy, as is the case with Crowe MacKay. The firms recruits new students annually during tax season, and has  created a program which moves  students from the classroom into practical experience easily and efficiently – which means that dazed look of new students is short lived.  

Each co-op student at the firm receives training, a coach (a young professional) and are placed within a team. As an articling accounting firm, Crowe MacKay has committed to developing young professionals to become designated accountants, and working with co-op students gives those young professionals the opportunity to develop highly-valued coaching, training and communications skills. In this case, it's a win-win-win for the student, the young professional and the firm. 

Tax season - everyone knows what it is and probably has a joke or two to tell about it. Co-op programs can help a a firm can increase its staff to handle the increased volume of work during this season or other seasonal peaks, and then have a pool of skilled candidates available to hire from. Crowe MacKay is home to a large number of co-op program alumni, including myself.  Being involved with local co-op programs hosted by colleges and universities creates a strong long-term community connection and can result in opportunities for business and future recruitment that would not otherwise be available. 

From a student's point of view, participating in a co-op education program provides valuable paid work experience that increases your future employability versus other grads. With Canada's youth unemployment rate trending at around 13%, the competitive advantage offered by co-op programs shouldn't be ignored. 

For companies, post-secondary institutions make it easy to get involved.  According to Tanya Tarlit, Okanagan College's Employment Coordinator, a simple email to the co-op office is all that is necessary to get started.  In your email, don't forget to include a job description and company information. After a brief follow up with the co-op office you will be well on your way to welcoming enthusiastic and skilled students ready to support your organization.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Candace Surette
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