Working in a paid position to support the costs of university while gaining relevant work experience to add to your resumé makes co-op programs for engineering a win-win situation.
Alternating work terms with school terms, engineering co-op programs allow engineering students to get into the workplace and experience different roles while working toward earning their degree at the same time.
Why should engineering students do co-op?
Program co-coordinators and graduates alike are not short on praise for engineering co-op programs.
“The real benefit is working with people of your profession and learning from them what you can.” —Will Fulcher, University of Waterloo civil engineering graduate
Sheenagh Brooks, co-op coordinator of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia strongly believes in the co-op program because it gives engineering students a chance to try out different fields before committing to one.
She says classroom education is only paper and theory, but co-op programs allow students to get out into the workplace where they can actually apply it.
“The main thing,” Brooks says, “is they think they want to go on this route, but when they get out there and try it they realize [something else] is the type of work they really want to do. It makes them realize what they first wanted to do, they don’t really want to do.”
Co-op makes it possible to confirm these decisions in a very informed way. It also gives students an opportunity to network and improve upon their interview skills before graduating.
Denver Jermyn, a graduate from the biological engineering co-op program at the University of Guelph, says the greatest benefit of co-op is “gaining experience and networking contacts before graduating. Most people graduate without any experience in their field at all, whereas I already had 16 months of work experience.”
It pays to choose the co-op route
Engineering co-op students at the University of British Columbia earn an average monthly salary of $2600-$3500, depending on whether they’re at a junior, intermediate or senior level, and which discipline of engineering they are studying.
Training in engineering co-op is usually “learn as you go,” according to Jermyn, who worked in co-op positions such as a brewing assistant, surveyor for an airport and a consultant for the Canadian Standards Association, providing technical support to carbon management companies in Europe.
“Up to 12 months of your co-op work can count toward the 48 months of engineering experience you need to become a professional engineer.
So that’s also a bit of a bonus.”
—Denver Jermyn, University of Guelph biological engineering graduate
“Usually I had a supervisor who would delegate tasks and review all of my work before approving it,” he says. “Training was pretty informal most of the time.”
Will Fulcher, a graduate from the civil engineering program at the University of Waterloo, completed his co-op in fields such as engineering consulting as a lab technician, engineering design as a steel manufacturer, construction management in commercial construction, and engineering management dealing with power generation.
He had similar training experiences: “The co-op programs didn’t really have any formal training in my experience, but you acquire a new set of skills at each one. I found that what you get out of the jobs is up to you. The real benefit is working with people of your profession and learning from them what you can. I find that it is a day to day experience finding tasks and learning how to complete them.”
Participating in co-op will add an extra year to your schooling, making it a five-year degree. The terms are generally four months of work and four months of class, sometimes back-to back of the same. This means you will always be working or in school, which can be seen as a negative aspect when it comes to your social life and freedom, but definitely a positive one when it comes to your resumé and future career aspirations.
Jermyn says, “Co-op does involve more work, I had to take an extra course for co-op for one semester and then you are always job searching while trying to do school work at the same time, but in my opinion it is totally worth it.” He adds, “For engineering students, up to 12 months of your co-op work can count toward the 48 months of engineering experience you need to become a professional engineer. So that’s also a bit of a bonus.”
Careers after co-op
Brooks estimates that about 80% of UBC’s co-op students receive offers of employment from the firms they do their co-op with.
Fulcher considers co-op terms to “have the potential of a four month interview. You are able to make connections and prove yourself through actions and a lot of companies hire students who are able to prove themselves during their co-op.”