How my co-op program shaped my work ethics

Co=op program- Penguin by the pool EXPERIENCE LASTS A LIFE-TIME


Co-op programs have been around for ages now and the kids that do get involved have for the most part come out from the placement with a positive learning experience.

We’ve talked about career choices and how they should be your own and not up to your parents and taking advantage of any co-op program experience might be your ticket to self-learning.

While relaxing a little last night and watching some programs that had been previously recorded the show “Undercover Boss Canada” came on.

The television program is based on a British television show called “Back to the Floor” from a several years ago and encourages the Boss to get back to the nitty-gritty.

The Undercover Boss segment in question was about the “Toronto Zoo” which in itself was very interesting but also made me think about my involvement in a ‘Work Experience‘ as we call it in the UK a ‘Co-op Program‘ in Canada when I was still in school.


Co-op program


What is a co-op program?

Also known as co-operative education in Canada securing a co-op placement is a head start above the competition when it comes time to look for your full-time job.

If you work at a place that accepts co-op students then you know exactly what a co-op program may be and why it’s important to a young adult. You may also own a business and encourage a co-op program at your establishment to help build relationships with the very adults you may hire in the future.

A co-op program may be proper work experience in a field that you excel in or are interested in getting involved in as a career as you get older such as an apprenticeship, finance or working in the medical field etc. It was a way to get hands on experience so you knew what the job entailed from a basic standpoint for the most part.

You can participate while you are in High School, College or even University where you may also find that you get paid for working in a co-op program or job placement program.

Keep in mind that there are eligibility requirements when getting involved with a co-op program so do you your research so you know what it entails.

It’s a way to take what you’ve learned in school and apply it in a placement where you can experience what working in the real world in that position may be like. It’s like “test driving” your potential career as the government website states.

The smartest thing you can do while testing out your potential career is to network like crazy. They say it’s not what you know but who you know but I believe it’s both so chat away and be friendly.

If you are hoping to score a summer job as a student from the co-op placement don’t rule it out and don’t be shy to ask your boss or the Human Resources department while you are learning.

Just be aware that if you are accepted into a co-op program in Canada that any additional costs will be coming out of your own pocket. It may seem like you are spending more money to learn however this work experience will look great on your resume and you can’t put a number on that.


Growing up


As all children start growing up there are always a few repeating careers that pop up in their brains and I was no exception. I was determined to be a Veterinarian, mainly because I adored animals and loved the medical field.

While in school at the age of 15-16 I got the opportunity to complete my work experience in a Zoo. I’m not a complainer so cleaning out some of the animals although stinky was just part of the experience.

The high point during my co-op program for me was feeding the penguins and then having to clean out there pool. Picking up penguins is not easy feat, although they are not built for walking or should I say waddling they are quicker than you think.

The reason they needed to be picked up is that penguins don’t want to leave the pool so you end up with a few in the bottom of the pool once all the water is drained.

You need to pull out the penguins because you have to scrub the walls and floor of the pool, followed by a good rinse.

This may sound like I had a hard life growing up but I used to cycle to work in the morning and back again at the end of the day. Start time was 6am, so getting up early was not something I had considered before this co-op program.

What’s even worse is that we didn’t even get paid for our hours of work. I wasn’t bothered by this as the experience of working with such a variety of animals was enough in itself.


Life experience


Becoming a Veterinarian never came to fruition as I grew up my brain changed and things went in a different direction. The co-op program however did give me some skills that followed me into the early years of my working career.

One of the greatest parts of my co-op program was when I would be feeding the animals and visitors to the zoo would come to me and ask me questions. It taught me how to interact with people and not be shy in sharing my knowledge although I’m not that shy to begin with.

I also learned life lessons by getting up early and being self-reliant by getting myself to work and back. I didn’t rely on my parents to knock on my door and start the car to get me to my co-op program.

Having my co-op program work experience on an early resume for part-time jobs helped along with the other jobs I did, like newspaper round etc.

Sometimes getting the job shovelling poo can also be rewarding because I was able to learn that hard work is part of life. There was a certain type of primate that you could go and clean and yet docile enough so they stayed in the same area as you.

Sounds dangerous but it wasn’t. If I remember correctly they were Lemurs a type of primate and would just be curious and drop on your head. They also liked to be hand fed as it’s easier than foraging.

Some of the students had terrible experiences during their co-op program learning absolutely nothing so getting covered in monkey poo was worth the early mornings. It can’t be that bad, I’m talking about it now.

This co-op program and the other jobs I had growing up were nothing huge but they taught me life lessons for which I am grateful now. Where I currently work we have students turn up for a co-op program and hopefully they take away experiences that they can apply to their future career.

Most of the students we’ve had come through have been great but you get the feeling some just don’t have the same work ethics as others. I’m not sure if it’s just the youth of today being of a different generation or whether we were just the same and yet thought we were just plain fantastic.

Although I didn’t learn how to budget as a student from my co-op placement I certainly walked away with some experiences that have taken me to different levels even in my career today. If you are thinking about a co-op program I can tell you that it’s worth the time and experience that you put in and get out from it.


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Photo Credit: Mackenzie



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  1. I never had the opportunity to participate in a co-op program as a student, but I recently became a co-op employer to a high school student who will receive a credit for his work. I think we have been learning a lot from each other! It’s important for employers to discover the benefits of co-op education, so that there will be enough placements for students.

  2. I did co-operative education when I was in college and, like you, had a great experience with it. Not only was I paid for the work that I did but it was a great addition to my bare-bones, college resume. Because of co-op, I still work at one of the companies I worked for, and am paid double than that of my co-op job. It’s a company that is notoriously difficult to get into, too.

    1. That’s one great reason to do a co-op to find out if you like it or not. No sense wasting money on an education if you don’t like the career.

  3. My daughter did field placement while in college, 2 days a week as it was part of the program. After college she was hired by one of the companies that she did as a placement as they were so impressed with her. It worked well for her.
    A friend of the younger boy did a co-op as a brick layer and loved it!! He went back to the place as an apprentice and now works there as a brick layer making really good money!! He is one of a few of the kids friends that went from co-op to apprentice to skilled trade worker.
    Years ago I had never heard of co-op except at university level, I knew a couple of people that took extra time to get through university by going co-op. Alternating terms between working and school helped with the money and they got experience in their field as well. I never heard of it at high school level until my kids were in school and there was a co-op student helping in the classroom. I sure wish it had been around for me back then….it would have been a way to try different things at the very least….

    1. That’s great that it worked out for them both. I know that it’s a great opportunity for many young adults to get involved and they should if the opportunity presents itself.

  4. I wish I had done co-op programs, but I didn’t realize the value of them until I was out of the program. I ended up trying to make my own relevant work experience with part-time jobs, and summer work so that I could at least say I did some of the stuff they were asking for. Not as good, but it helped. I now push it as much as I can when teens (and their parents) ask me for advice.

    1. I hear that often that people wish they did co-op programs. They are a great way to get your feet wet in the career choice. At least you did your best trying to find relevant work during the summer.

  5. I’m hoping that my daughter learns some of those lessons while at her placement position. She definitely have learned things that I will never know while at school but once school is over (this April), she will have 1 month to put into practice what she has learnt and then some….

    It’s amazing how much these co-op/placement positions make the kids grow up, or is that my wishful thinking???

    1. That’s lovely to hear that your daughter has a co-op placement. If she really loves what she is planning on doing it will shine in the placement. If not well then she has decisions to make. None the less she will learn something from the experience.

  6. I am a big believer in co-op programs. My rather impatient older son was determined that he wanted to be a teacher. He took all university level courses in high school with other children who were interested in learning and wanting to be there. He did a co-op class and had to teach grade nine gym. Many of those children did not want to be there and weren’t interested in learning. He realized that teachers have to teach everyone and that it was just not for him.

    His good grades got him in to a university co-op program and one of the companies he worked at during a placement semester offered him a permanent position. He graduates in April and will move from his current part-time position in the company to a full time management position that pays more than I make.

    Get your children in to co-op if you can.

    1. What a lovely story to hear and it’s true that some kids find out in co-op that it’s not what they want to pursue so it’s best to find out before spending money on their education. Good for him.

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