Co-op Placements: Do or Don’t?
You’ve heard about how co-op positions can be very useful in determining a future career. Even if it’s not related to what you want to do, you can learn from the experience by cooperating with (and learning from) your fellow co-workers, or confirming that it is a career that you do not want to pursue in the future. But this piece is not about looking at co-op positions in a positive light; but rather, it’s a note of caution: research must be conducted before you choose a position.
You should take a role that is similar to what you wish to do if you can, but sometimes the position that you get offered through such co-op programs is not exactly related to what you thought you would be doing. A former teacher of mine had looked into acquiring co-op placements for a program of hers, but advised against it after discovering it would not be helpful or useful for her students. This also came up in discussions with classmates when it came to placement – while I loved mine, others didn’t feel the same about theirs. Everybody has different personalities, and some friction between people seems almost inevitable.
A few notes:
- The co-op placement is usually regarded as an “office job”. You don’t get paid. Some students are actually ‘background pieces’, where they just learn by watching instead of doing. This doesn’t work particularly well for students who are there to learn. However, this placement can work out well – if you participate and pick up knowledge and skills through one of these placements, you can list it as experience on your resume – which can help you get an entry-level position after graduation.
- Remember this above all else: you are there to learn. If you’re not learning in your placement, talk to the placement coordinator. It may not be possible to switch placements, but if there are additional problems (stress-filled environment, transportation and costs, not doing much in the work-space); you may have a sympathetic ear who can help to make some alternative arrangements.
- Travel can be an issue with placements. Most students prefer to stay close to home and school. I didn’t particularly want to travel further than my high school, so I was placed in the library, and as a result, the placement was for only one period at a time. Since travel is a major issue with placements, schools will often make arrangements for placements to be longer; a half-day to a full-day. This may create additional costs: unexpected delays, lunch and additional time that ‘eats’ up in your time for homework, or the loss of your own recreational time. It may not necessarily be an issue if you have access (and can drive) a car.
- You could wind up with a placement you didn’t like, or a placement where your supervisor didn’t like your work habits. This means that you can get a poor performance review – since this is related to a placement for a grade or a school credit, this review can mean the difference in your school grades.
Like all things, there are positives and there are negatives. The main thing you have to ask yourself is simply this: will it be worth the experience and knowledge, or would it be worth it to put it off and look elsewhere (say, college or university as compared to high school) for that placement that makes a difference in your future?