What are the Benefits of Participating in High School Co-op Programs?
Looking back on my high school experience, one of my biggest regrets was not participating in a co-op program. Short for cooperative education, co-op programs are essentially opportunities for students to gain work experience while still in high school. At the time, my reasoning against co-op programs was that they took up too much time in my schedule: for two to three days a week, half of those days (either the morning or the afternoon) would be spent at my co-op placement. (Please note: this was the arrangement for my Toronto, Ontario high school; yours may have a different schedule.) I am writing this article because I want to explain why I have changed my mind.
Exploring career choices early
For some students in high school, they already have an idea of their future career path. For others, they are still deciding. Co-op programs are an early opportunity to try out a career and see if it will suit you. For example, if you are contemplating a career in finance, try to get a placement in a bank, where you will get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to work in finance. There are two possible outcomes at the end of your placement: either you will be more committed of your career choice or you will realize this is not for you. Either way, you leave your co-op placement with a clearer idea of your career suitability.
Gaining employability skills
Co-op placements are set in a variety of places—hospitals, banks, the police force, hotels, restaurants, just to name a few—and all of these are real places of employment, with real expectations of employee performance. A co-op student is technically not an employee and may be given a little leeway, but you will need to quickly develop important employability skills. These skills include communication, punctuality, professionalism, networking, and teamwork. These skills are important not only for your success as a co-op student, but also in your future workplaces because they are transferable and universally desired.
Earn high school credits
In Toronto, high school students require 18 compulsory credits in order to graduate and earn their diploma. The Toronto District School Board does not set a limit on the number of co-op programs you can take and the number of credits you can therefore earn from your placements—but only two co-op credits may count towards your 18 compulsory ones. The requirements may be different for your high school and school district, so make sure you ask your teacher or guidance counselor for the details.
Now that you have learned about some benefits of participating in high school co-op programs, I strongly suggest you do some research. Does your school offer co-op programs? If so, what are the application requirements and process? A meeting with your high school guidance counsellor or career advisor can help you tailor your application to your specific skills and interests.