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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