Emerging talent brings transformative, future-proof skills into human resources realm

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Vanessa Vanpopic on a co-op work term sitting meeting with two colleagues at Toyota

By: Namish Modi

An entrepreneurial spirit, inquisitiveness and a knack for problem-solving are just some of the skills
Waterloo Arts students have that make them attractive to the human resources team at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC). 

“University of Waterloo Arts students tend to bring multi-faceted approaches to problems,” says Adam 
Pearson (BSc ’07), assistant manager of HR at TMMC.  “Arts students provide various ways to present information, including using visuals that reach people in different ways. They find unique and effective ways to get the message across appropriately.”  

Some of the human resources work that Arts students assist with include employment letters, recruiting and social media. 

Students have helped to improve work processes at TMMC like pay stub mailouts and contract renewals. 

“Students work together to fix problems. When they complete their work term, they’ve improved our workplace in their time here,” Pearson says.

First work term student excels in person in Winter 2021

Vanessa Vanpopic photo
Vanessa Vanpopic
Second-year Arts and Business co-op student

Vanessa Vanpopic, a second-year Arts and Business student (Sociology) worked in-person for her first work term at TMMC from January to April 2021.

Vanpopic says very strong public health safety protocols were developed and implemented in response to the pandemic, making her experience as an analyst in policy development and performance management a fantastic one.

“When I come to work, I feel safe,” says Vanpopic, during her last week at TMMC in April.

Since her work term was mostly in person, it allowed her to tour the manufacturing shop and process hard copy paperwork, which wouldn't be possible in a remote environment.

As part of the term, Vanpopic worked on several projects which helped improve human resource processes. This included cost improvements for mailing processes and creating learning resources.

These learning resources help employees navigate remote work tools such as Teams.

According to Pearson, Vanpopic’s projects are important as they help build trust internally. Vanpopic also presented some of her work to the entire department, which she describes as a challenging but fulfilling assignment.

Vanpopic says the work term allowed her to problem-solve more effectively as well as incorporate feedback into her work.

“I never felt like I was just an intern during my co-op term,” says Vanpopic. “I learned that, if you have an idea, a suggestion or some sort of feedback, express that opinion, because your opinion is unique, and your perspective is valuable.”

Perseverance is an additional skill the organization is looking for, according to Pearson.

“We do go through a lot of review cycles with our projects,” Pearson adds. “Somebody coming in knowing that it’s going to take a while to get to the end result, but willing to put in the work; they’ll always be successful.”

Pearson says he tries to help students determine what their work term will look like and allows them to express what they’d like to learn, and how they would like to develop.

The pandemic and its implications

Like every other industry, the global pandemic has had a major impact in HR operations.

While extensive health and safety protocols have been put in place to protect employees and the community, many training and other processes are provided virtually, when possible.

“I think the technology we use to deliver services and HR is changing drastically,” Pearson adds. “And the pandemic is forcing it to change more quickly.”

Students coming out of the workforce who have strong technical literacy will make the transition even
more smoothly, Pearson says.

“There’s a whole group of people coming through the university systems who have new levels of knowledge about new technologies and new ways of doing things,” he adds.

“Arts students can come with a multi-faceted background on how to deal with the human interaction piece. I think that’s the injection that the workforce needs.”

More than 300 Arts students in the Human Resources Management program are equipped to support organizations with their workforce planning needs.


D2L logo

Nicky Foster headshot

“The past year and a half has been uncertain and ever-changing;
but a constant has been the talented students we’ve hired into our Co-op Program,” says Nicky Foster, People and Culture Generalist with D2L.

“Specifically, in our department we have had students supporting talent acquisition to continue to ramp up our hiring needs, leading diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure our employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging at D2L, and assisting our Business Partners to support their business functions so that they may continue to support the growing organization. Our co-ops have been remarkable additions to our team and many of them continue to stay with us part-time or even full-time with they graduate!



Ricoh Canada logo

Jessi Gaidhu headshot

At Ricoh, students in human resources engage in several key activities like coordinating and managing employee surveys, 
administrating daily tasks like background checks and extracting reports.

Jessi Gaidhu, HR operations manager at Ricoh, says that co-op students bring “different perspectives” to HR at Ricoh and provide fresh eyes and perspective in terms of day-to-day work. Some skills that Gaidhu says are important in terms of HR are adaptability, fast-learning and fluidity on technical platforms.


Economical Insurance

Economical Insurance logo

Melanie Fernandez headshot

Our (co-op) student coordinated project activities within HR and Change Management, developed communication, cultivated relationships with various stakeholders and gained exposure within an enterprise transformational program,” says Melanie Fernandez, HR Business Partner with Economical Insurance.