1. When did you begin your career in co-op and in what capacity?
I commenced my career in 1994 at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) as a Co-operative Education Coordinator.
2. What brought you to seek a career in co-op?
Prior to accepting the position at BCIT, I was employed at Capilano College as the Student Employment Advisor where I assisted students in securing part-time, summer and graduate positions in addition to providing guidance to the students in all phases of their job search. I enjoyed assisting the students in their quest to find suitable employment as well as helping the employers to secure great employees. A career in Cooperative Education allowed me to continue my work with students and employers while expanding my involvement in the educational process. Joining the BCIT Faculty as part of their Cooperative Education team was a natural career transition for me.
3. What are your own personal considerations as to the value of co-op education?
I am a strong advocate of experiential learning and have personally witnessed how students, employers and institutions have benefited from their participation in Cooperative Education. Students gain hands-on knowledge and skills acquired during their Co-op placements; employers acquire knowledgable and motivated skilled workers while at the same time institutions keep abreast of the ever-changing world of work so they are able to adapt their current programming to meet industry needs thus producing successful graduates. Cooperative Education works on so many levels for so many people.
4. As a co-op practitioner, what do you consider some of your biggest successes over the years, and why?
I have met so many wonderfully talented and creative people over my time as a Co-op practitioner. Success came by assisting students in securing desired and profitable work experiences, often resulting in gainful graduate positions. It was especially satisfying when a previous Co-op graduate returned to BCIT to hire Co-op students of their own.
Success also came in developing long-term and meaningful relationships with a broad range of employers in a variety of disciplines. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the employers and their industries while helping them build their respective strong and successful work forces. My involvement with the employers encouraged a broader range of Co-op work possibilities which resulted in higher Co-op student placements into educational working opportunities to supplement their academic training.
5. As a co-op practitioner, what have been some of your biggest challenges, and how did you address them?
The number of Co-op student participants has continually increased over the years, which is a testament to the effectiveness of Cooperative Education. However, the allotted institutional operating budgets have not increased at the same pace to sustain the Co-op program growth. Shrinking post-secondary budgets proposes challenges so in our effort to maintain the rigour and quality of our Co-op programs, new automated methods were implemented to complete the tasks more efficiently and effectively.
6. In reflecting back to the start of your career in co-op, what advice about priorities, goals or activities would you give to those commencing their career in co-op?
Instruct your students well on how to conduct a thorough and effective job search so they receive multiple interviews and subsequently several job offers. This will serve the students well throughout their Co-op program as well as upon graduation and beyond.
Cultivate, build and maintain excellent working relationships with your Co-op employers as this will result in more Co-op work opportunities for the Co-op students. Always respect the friendships that you have encouraged and developed with the industry.
Embrace the support from your regional Co-op ‘family’ of practitioners. Consider volunteering with the Association of Cooperative Education of BC (ACE), the Canadian Association for Cooperative Education (CAFCE) and/or the World Association of Cooperative Education (WACE). There are so many exceptionally talented and seasoned Co-op practitioners that are willing to share their knowledge and expertise to help ease a new practitioner into the fold. Become actively involved, on and off campus, in an effort to promote Cooperative Education institutionally, provincially, nationally and globally.
7. What are your thoughts as to how co-op has evolved over the years, and where do you think it is headed in the future?
More and more, the realisation that practical, hands-on experience is unbeatable preparation and training and as such, over the years more and more post-secondary institutions are integrating this type of education into their programs. Cooperative Education is only one example of experiential learning. The world of work is constantly evolving and the needs of the employers and employees forever changing. The policies and guidelines of Cooperative education can often be viewed as overly restrictive and difficult to follow. In the future, changes to the Cooperative education delivery scheduling and methods may need to be modified if Co-op is to continue to meet the present day needs of the students and employers.
Thanks for sharing with us, Judith!