Gain practical experience
Co-op offers students the opportunity to test drive different career options. Depending on your interests, your co-op placement can give you valuable, real world experience to help you determine if this is the right career for you.
"Pursuing a high school co-op set me up for success to complete my university co-op experiences," says Katia, an Environment, Resources and Sustainability student at Waterloo.
While on co-op, your learning extends beyond the classroom and into the workplace. You’ll be able to apply what you learned in school to real life work situations. You’ll also gain a lot of new skills that will help you refine your career aspirations and what you’d like to study post-high school.
Katia says that "in high school, I completed an Environmental Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM). I could apply what I was learning in my environmental courses to my co-op, which was very rewarding. This experiential learning opportunity allowed me to understand how the classes I was interested in could lead to a career."
Develop marketable skills
While working, you’ll gain a variety of skills that will help you successfully transition into the workforce. Common transferable skills earned in the workplace include teamwork, written and verbal communication, time management, and analyzing information. These are all great to include on a résumé or cover letter, especially since you’ll have examples to explain how you’ve used those skills in a workplace setting.
After completing five co-op terms at Waterloo, I see the true value of the co-op position I completed in high school. This co-op allowed me to gain valuable skills such as interview techniques, how to use various computer programs, and introduced me to employer expectations.
Build your portfolio
Co-op allows you to build an evidence-based career portfolio, meaning you’ll have a collection of tangible examples of how you applied your skills in the workforce. This can be included in your university or future job applications. Having work experience is a great thing to showcase on your Admission Information Form when applying to the University of Waterloo.
Additionally, if you’re coming to Waterloo for a university co-op program, you can talk about your high school co-op in job interviews and mention all those transferable skills you gained from your work experience.
Confirm career decisions
A co-op opportunity allows you to explore different career paths and aid in career planning. Depending on your co-op placement, you could determine whether or not a certain career path is right for you. This is super valuable, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in realizing that you might need to change your career path.
[Co-op] was incredibly valuable for me, because, while I loved the atmosphere and the work itself, I realized I didn’t want to be a veterinarian and work in that industry for the rest of my life.
Establish contacts in the workforce
When working for any organization, you’ll meet and work with many different people. This allows you to grow your network, which you can leverage in the future.
Thinking about applying to a summer job? You could use your high school co-op manager as your reference for that summer job interview.
You may also be able to go back to your high school co-op and work there as a summer job. If you decide to take co-op in university and loved your high school co-op, you could arrange to work there for one of your co-op terms.
Making these connections and leveraging them may be super useful even after your high school co-op has ended.
Nicole says that co-op allowed her to make connections within the industry, and she ended up getting hired on after my co-op term and worked as an animal care assistant part-time.
"I also was hired at the owner's second clinic, and both part-time jobs helped me discover what workplace qualities I possess and what qualities I should improve upon," she adds.
The best part?
You can do all of this while earning credits towards your high school diploma!
Co-op can also create a smoother transition to university and ease the stress of finding future co-op/work opportunities during your undergraduate degree. If you’re interested in co-op, talk to your high school guidance counsellor. It’s never too early to research the opportunities available to you.
If a co-op work term won’t fit into your high school schedule, that’s okay! Many universities have co-op opportunities, meaning you can still gain practical experience, develop marketable skills, and establish contacts in the workforce while earning your degree. Learn more about kick-starting your career with co-op at the University of Waterloo.