Paving the way through co-op

Photo of Matt standing in a banquet hallMatt Jay, a third-year Environment student in the School of Planning, tells us all about his co-op experiences working for different cities and that perseverance is key when it comes to co-op!

For both his first and second co-op terms, Matt worked for the City of Windsor as a Transportation Planning Student. During his time there, he worked remotely with the Transportation Planning services. His main project there was developing a 'complete streets policy'. This involves developing new design standards intended to transform Windsor’s street network from one that is car-centric to one that is safe and reliable for various means of transportation including, walking, biking and transit.

Matt also worked on updating Bike Parking regulations, which helped open the door for more bike parking options throughout the city. He also developed a 'community safety zone' policy.

“If you've ever been in a residential area, you’ll notice these street signs that say, ‘community safety zone - fines increased.’ We developed a policy that helps tell the city where they [should] place these zones because we found that these zones were popping up in seemingly nonsensical locations. The general goal is to get people to slow down because they are passing through sensitive areas, such as schools, retirement homes, and so on.”

Matt is on his third co-op, where he is continuing his work at the Municipality of Lakeshore, as a Community Planning Student. “My co-op this time around is actually in-person, so I’m actually able to get a feel for the in-office environment and sort of the camaraderie that one is able to experience when working in an office setting as opposed to working from home.”

“[...] In terms of day-to-day projects for my current co-op term, I’m mainly involved with assisting with pre-consultations, which is where you have someone who, for example, wishes to do a site plan or wishes to do a zoning amendment or something along those lines.” Pre-consultations involve clients sending in conceptual sketches to the Municipality where they review it and give some notes as what they would do next. These notes, including the need to apply for zoning amendments or site plan control, would then be shared with the developer.

“Our long-term project, on the other hand, is […] reviewing our zoning by-law, which is our main document that determines what gets built, where it can be built, and how it can be built. We’re basically going through and seeing what we can improve on, both to make the town hall’s job a lot less of a headache [and] also to make it much more friendly for people who want to build something as large as a condo development to something as small as a deck.” Today, one of the components of this project is reviewing the Municipality’s zoning maps to ensure they are all accurate.

What has been the most challenging thing about co-op? 

Matt explained that there were a couple of challenges, one of which was the application process and the competition that it brings. For him, the process of having to apply to multiple jobs that he’s interested in, making time to write up numerous detailed resumes and cover letters, as well as being prepared for interviews and the rejection of not being selected can be a real challenge. But he has demonstrated that he’s been able to conquer that challenge, stating “It’s all down to perseverance.”

Matt also explains his struggles with working remotely. “The fact that you’re working from home, you kind of feel that there’s this disconnect from your co-workers, employers and supervisors, and you have to rely on emails and hope that they see them. Even so, I actually noticed that this is just as common in-person, because your supervisors have a bunch of other things on the go, and so when dealing with the whole scheduling issue, it’s all just trying to find the right times and being able to use the scheduling tools that you have at your disposal.”

What has been the most rewarding thing about co-op? 

“This semester, the prospect of not being able to get interviews during the first couple of rounds was quite discouraging, as a matter of fact I was kind of a little heartbroken. But after some consultation with my co-op advisor, it was all down to refining the craft, and it wasn’t just the fact that I got ranked and eventually got matched with the job at Lakeshore, it was also the fact that I wound up getting calls thereafter from other employers who were actually interested in interviews.”

Photo of Matt on the beach

 

“This was probably one of the more rewarding parts of the co-op process, just that sense of perseverance and actually getting into a co-op job.”

How do you think working in planning has helped you develop yourself?

“I’ve always wanted to be a city planner ever since I was in high school. I originally had it in mind that when I graduated from college, I would become a planning technician, but everyone was asking for people with work experience, which obviously I didn’t have. The very fact that I’m actually able to gain that work experience gives me some confidence that I’ll be a much more desirable asset to whoever decides to hire me in the future.”

“Not to mention, there are certain aspects of many of these co-op positions that they don’t necessarily teach you. I know that in school, in a lot of the courses, they teach you about the government structure [...] and also about how other cities do planning, but what they don’t tell you is the layers upon layers of different plans and codes, and the level of communication and cooperation between departments within municipalities and with external agencies.”

“It’s one thing to talk about trying to work with the public, it’s another thing to actually work with them.” 

- Matt Jay, third-year Environment and Planning student 

Do you have any advice for co-op students interested in planning?

“From what I’ve seen and from what I heard from everyone around me, if you think that Planning is the program for you, if you think you're interested in Urban Development, go for it! If you find out later that it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, you have a good amount of time to figure out what you want to do. But, if you think that Planning is the right place for you or the right study to go into, definitely go for it!”

“If you're still dead set on going for it, even though you were having problems trying to get into a co-op job in the field, perseverance! Just keep going. Obviously, don’t try to do the same thing, use the resources that you have to improve your craft. Also, when you're in an interview, don’t try to see if you can get the right answer, just give the answers that come up the most naturally to you. Some questions are difficult to answer [...], but treat a job interview like a television interview, basically, give the person on the other end of the microphone an idea to understand the way that your mind ticks.”

What’s next for you?

“Beyond this co-op term, I obviously have another semester and then two more co-op terms. But in terms of where I want to go, I want to see if I can get a taste of the private sector, be able to see what it’s like to work at a consulting firm, but all of that is not necessarily within my control because, as I said before, a lot of it comes down to which employers would like to take an interest in me. I have a saying, “you go wherever the wind takes you”, it’s the idea that I don’t have a specific place that I want to go to, I’m more than happy to help out those who are willing to let me help them out.”