Reviewing the Arts co-op program

As an Arts student, finding a job after you graduate without previous workplace experience can be frustratingly difficult. The Arts Co-Op program provides work experience that could help the job hunt.

Co-op participants gain experience relevant to their field at various placements while completing their degree. As a result, students in the program receive 12 to 16 months of paid work experience by the time they graduate.

With the school year over and a new semester right around the corner, we took a look at some of the data gathered by the program over the past school year, and talked with some students and alumni to get their thoughts on why the program can be especially useful for Arts students.

A majority of the placements are within the non-profit (27.5 per cent), private business (26.3 per cent), and provincial agency sectors (23.2 per cent). Placements within the federal government followed at 12.9 per cent.

While work terms are offered abroad, placements for this past year were also mostly in the local area, with 82.4 per cent of placements taking place in British Columbia, and 90.8 per cent in Canada overall.

The program grew eight per cent in overall student participation: a total of 448 undergraduate and graduate students were involved in the program.

With growing participation and an increasing number of placements offered, is the Arts Co-op Program something that all Arts students should look into? Marie Shuman, who is currently on her summer work term at International Experience Canada, definitely thinks so.

“I was in my fourth year at university and I was about to graduate with a Bachelor of Education and then I got a job teaching cooking to kids and realized that I hated everything about it so I panicked. I found out about the co-op program… and it was the best choice I’ve made,” said Shuman.

Aaron Sanderson, an alumnus of the the program, was financing his own education and found himself in need of workplace experience in order to afford the coming semester.

“I knew what subject matter I was interested in, but the actual practical applications of that subject was a whole other thing, so I thought by going to co-op I would get a chance to refine that more before I graduated,” said Sanderson.

The program also provides support for students that include improving resumes, staging practice interviews and polishing cover letters.

“It’s beyond just the quality of jobs you get access to but it’s also the quality of the job training that you get,” said Shannon Hogan, an International Relations major currently on a work term at the Litigation Management and Resolution Branch of Aboriginal Affairs in Calgary. “Without the awareness of the job market and all of that huge support, I think it’s really hard, especially for Arts students to be able to learn all that and to get that access to all those job opportunities.”

Although the program assists students in applying for these work placements, getting accepted into one may prove to be difficult.

“It’s pretty competitive, it’s quite similar to real life in terms of when you’re having to search for jobs,” said Amber Dukart, an Asian Studies major who is working her first placement at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden for the summer. “It requires a lot of hard work to get that first job.”

Students can’t always be selective on the location of their work placements, which may be troublesome to those without the finances needed to relocate. In addition, while the placements are paid, students enrolled in a co-op work term still pay what’s essentially a course fee associated with the job.

However, program alumnus Annie Tsay said the benefits outweigh the costs.

“It helped me discover what I enjoy doing and what I didn’t like doing and just the opportunity to try out different sectors,” said Tsay. “You may not land the perfect job or the most ideal job right away but you never know how one position may lead to other opportunities.”