At the Hospital for Sick Children, fourth-year commerce student Sean Zia watched as a software business pitched their product to the hospital.
“I was learning the things I should be doing, and the things I shouldn’t be doing if I were pitching (an idea) to a company,” he says.
And during his time at TD Canada Trust, Zia discovered one of his greatest weaknesses: doing business with external clients.
These experiences, offered to Zia through Ryerson’s co-op program, taught him one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned to date: how to work with industry professionals.
As a fourth-year student in Ryerson’s Business Technology Management (BTM) program, Zia has already completed three co-op work terms.
“Students know how to deal with certain problems, but what we don’t know is how to deal with certain people,” says Zia.
He says that had he not been a co-op student, learning lessons like this would have been near-impossible.
But not all BTM students will be given the same opportunities as Zia, even if they meet the co-op program’s requirements.
The BTM co-op program, which has been around since 1997, usually has about 50 co-op spots available per year, according to Ozgur Turetken. Turetken is the director of the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management.
The school usually receives around 50 to 60 applications from students who meet the minimum academic requirement of a 2.80 GPA, Turetken says.
This was the first year that the program received over double the usual number of applications from eligible students, with around 100 received this year.
This year is also the beginning of The Ted Rogers School of Management’s (TRSM) expansion of co-op programs across the faculty. The school will be introducing co-op programs for all of its full-time undergraduate programs by 2017. These programs will be introducing co-op on a small scale, with some programs (e.g. the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management) offering only seven co-op spots for students.
Turetken says that while he would like to expand the BTM co-op program to accommodate all eligible applicants, there are barriers to that ideal.
“Not many companies have the right structure to accommodate co-op students, especially in the first work term…(the students’) enthusiasm and work ethic is there, but their skill levels and what they can do are limited,” says Turetken.
Despite some companies’ unwillingness to expand their co-op programs, other companies consider co-op a priority.
RBC Royal Bank has a global team of 20 employees who focus on campus recruitment, says Lisa Kramer, RBC’s director of campus recruitment. This includes hiring for co-op, internships, and summer hiring. RBC has also hired 21 Ryerson co-op students this year so far.
Companies unfamiliar with co-op programs need to be aware of how the programs can benefit a company, so they may be willing to accommodate students, says Turetken.
“To increase that awareness we need more effort on our side, but we are limited in what we can do because faculty time and resources are limited,” he says.
Turetken says that ideally, BTM’s co-op program would have more administrative staff who would work to foster relationships with industry professionals.
“Just knowing somebody doesn’t do it. You need to work through that process of making something more tangible out of (a professional relationship)…I think size and the access of this program is going to go hand-in-hand with the success of our relationships in general,” he says.
But Steven Murphy, dean of TRSM, says that the school doesn’t need more staff, but rather a redistribution of resources.
TRSM has its own careers centre, with “career coordinators who are linked to every single program and major (in TRSM),” says Murphy. He says that these coordinators will be working diligently with the co-op office to build lasting relationships with employers.
“If we need to scale up our resources we’ll do so, but first thing I want to do is optimally utilize who’s already here and ensure the career coordinators are working effectively with the co-op office.”
Stefan Kerry, manager of Ryerson’s co-op office, says that with the demand for co-op growing, this year they will be looking into increasing their in-office staffing.
Students who don’t get accepted into co-op programs may be missing out on more than just skill development; they could be missing out on a full-time job come graduation.
At RBC, co-op gives the company an opportunity to assess students over their four-month work term and see if they would be a good fit for a permanent position.
Kramer says that this gives them the chance to evaluate an individual’s performance, see how well they adapt, and how quickly they are able to develop the necessary skills for the job.
“Many students work in co-op opportunities and are hired directly from those roles into full-time opportunities,” she says. “Conversion of students is certainly key for us, and that’s certainly one of the main reasons why we participate in co-op hiring,”
As for Zia, he’s confident that co-op will provide him with a competitive advantage when looking for jobs post-graduation.
During all three of his co-op placements, his managers encouraged him to come back during any future co-op terms.
“I’ve had really good relationships with all of the managers during my work terms,” Zia says. He even says he occasionally goes for drinks with the manager he had during his placement at the University of Toronto.
“If you do everything right, and show quality work during your work terms, when you graduate, there’s no way you’ll be unemployed.”