Gaining direct experience in your field while still in school is an extremely valuable experience no matter what industry you’re in.
Richie Laflamme, a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Mechanical Engineering Co-op program, is a testament to this claim. Although including co-op made his degree a five-year commitment, he now finds himself employed full-time as a Technical Documentation Specialist at one of the companies where he completed a co-op.
“I feel like my degree is very secondary to my co-ops – almost like my co-op experiences define me as an engineer rather the degree.” —Richie Laflamme, Mechanical Engineering Co-op graduate, University of Waterloo
Waterloo’s Co-op program allows students six co-op terms in between school terms, which, for Richie, meant the opportunity to try out six different engineering positions.
“Sampling a variety was invaluable to me. It allowed me to see what was out there and what kinds of positions are available to people with this degree”, he says. “Not only that, it gave me the necessary knowledge and confidence to succeed in any position. Before I even graduated I had two years of engineering experience in six different positions.”
His final co-op term was with engineering simulation software company Ansys Inc., where he worked in the technical services department. This allowed him to get an in-depth look at how the company worked and acted as his initial lead into an interest in technical writing. However, it wasn’t just his interests that advanced. His career did as well. By working hard to achieve excellent evaluations and maintaining connections with the company, he landed an interview and – shortly after – a job offer.
This brings up another major benefit Richie noted regarding co-op internships: interview preparation. Completing upward of 50 interviews during his time at Waterloo, he caught on to one major recurring theme: know the company.
“Visit their website and learn about the services they have available,” says Richie. “Most importantly, know the job posting inside and out. What are they looking for? What skills do they want in a candidate? Think about what kind of projects you’ve done and how that relates to this job.”
Furthermore, because co-op gave him experience with such a variety of positions, he now has so much more to draw from while in an interview.
Co-op does offer some challenges, though. Because his program was structured four months of school and four months of co-op, Richie says “spending summers in school were tough when you know all your friends are back home living it up.”
However, he acknowledges that the benefits of such an arrangement easily outweigh this drawback. “We got so much help finding meaningful work and were paid fairly well for it.”
Although transitioning from work to school and then immediately to a new job sounds somewhat overwhelming, Richie says the transitions between workplaces were easy. “Every co-op treated me as if I were a future employee, which is actually how many co-op employers think. They use the co-op program to find their next generation of talent.”
Richie says he would recommend co-op to any student. “It’s why most people go to Waterloo and it doesn’t disappoint.” He says the benefits co-op can have on your career range from determining your career path, to rethinking your education, to allowing you to acquire real world skills and building a solid resume before graduation.
“It also provides solid connections in the industry,” he says. “Even if you obtained 10 contacts per company, which would be easy, that’s already 60 working contacts you have before you graduate.”
Richie sums up his success with co-op in one simple sentence: “I feel like my degree is very secondary to my co-ops – almost like my co-op experiences define me as an engineer rather the degree.”