Our Co-op Stories: Real Life Lessons from our Co-op Experiences

Our Co-op Stories: Real Life Lessons from our Co-op Experiences

22 March, 2017

Co-operative education, can introduce a student to the inner-workings of a company; opening the ‘black box’, and exposing the student to the working world. While higher-education institutions do their best to prepare their students for what comes after graduation, it can be challenging to truly prepare them for the experience. Hypothetical learning can only take a student part-way on the path of being truly prepared for the working world – however sending a student to work for a real-world employer will give them the hands-on experience that a classroom can never accurately capture. Preparation for that process will always be abstract, and it seems that until we can better capture what skills students need to be successful, a first work-term is likely going to be trial-by-fire.

When starting with a company, every new co-op student hopes that the picture they were painted during the research and interview process will be accurate. What typically comes to light, however, is that the nature of a job, a company or even an industry can only be properly experienced – not described – as there are certain intangible factors at play: personalities, opinions, politics, the health of the company, and perhaps most important – performance demands.

There is so much to be gained from these real-life experiences, both positive and negative, to help in clarifying goals, ideas, and what a meaningful path after graduation looks like. How one measures, processes, reflects on, and adapts to these experiences will inevitably shed light on the value of the opportunity.

In honour of Co-op Week here at Orbis Communications, we asked some of our staff about their hard-learned lessons in co-op that helped them shape their careers.

Sandy Cowan – Manager of Product Development. “It was my very first co-op job – it was for a Civil Engineering office and we were on our way to do a conditions survey of Massey Hall. I was petrified, because it was my first job. I had to ride in with the new boss on our way to Toronto. On the drive in he asked me “So do you have questions about the job or about what we’re going to do?” I really did not expect that question, so I just responded “No?” Of course, he responded ranting “What do you mean? How can you not have questions? You don’t know everything…” I learned a lot from that interaction. He asked me a very reasonable question and I simply wasn’t prepared to answer. Everything was so new, I hadn’t done any research. I didn’t really even know what was involved in a condition survey, or what we were going to look at. I wasn’t prepared.
Q: “Education by failure?”
SC: “Yes – It really taught me to be prepared and do some research before you go into any situation.”

Natalie Nitsopoulos – Director of Customer Experience “My goal at the time was to become a Physical Therapist – so I felt lucky when I got a placement working in an office alongside professionals who were doing just that. While working with my supervisor, he told me that he wouldn’t recommend going into the physical therapy industry. Physical therapy, at the time, was already a difficult industry to enter – and the government wasn’t supporting the field, adding yet another challenge. While working there, I realized that my vision of what I anticipated the role to be – dealing with athletes and sports injuries – was actually very different dealing with ultrasounds and work compensation cases.”
Q: “Did that change the trajectory of your career?”
NN: “It did. I considered the amount of politics happening in the field and tried to picture myself fulfilling the obligations to meet the patients’ demands. I took the wisdom of my supervisors’ comments to heart, and felt it was genuine because he was very successful in his field. I took a closer look at what I could achieve, and decided I needed to try something new. I’m glad I did.”

Michael Samborski – Developer “During one my co-ops, I was working for a service desk that provided support for every single employee of [ a very large scale employer]. This is the desk they would call for IT support, as their first point of contact. During this placement, employees would call in with a specific issue that I would help them fix. One fix, I recall, involved having our field service techs go out and unplug and plug back in a cable.”
Q: “Was this a life changing experience?”
MS: “This made me realize I wanted to work in a fast-paced job in software development- where I am producing something rather supporting others’ ability to produce work. This subtle shift within the industry made all the difference to me. Since starting with Orbis, I have also started volunteering with the Hamilton Code Club, so I can share my passion for creating and building with kids.”

The journey through work integrated learning is a full of positive and negative experiences. Unique experiences help us all be more self-aware of our needs and move toward more meaningful & happier careers. We share the successes our campus partners have with work integrated learning. We urge anyone not practising work integrated learning to adopt it and applaud our campus partners in their success and work to continue advancing.


SINCERELY – THE ORBIS TEAM

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