Employers support Waterloo co-op during pandemic; well-being a top priority

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Employers support Waterloo co-op during pandemic; well-being a top priority

By Michelle Radman

The office landscape has changed dramatically in the last few months. Many University of Waterloo co-op students were on their work term when the pandemic hit in March and needed to quickly adapt to a new world. Without hesitation, employers adjusted operations from working in-person to a virtual world. At the same time, many found ways to provide the support and peace-of-mind that co-op students needed to help adjust.

Well-being and safety first

Part of this new adjustment was the change from cubicles and boardrooms to makeshift home offices. Canadian e-commerce giant, Shopify, decided to help make this change a little easier for their teams. Shopify provided each employee a $1,000 stipend in their local currency to outfit their home offices. This stipend didn’t apply solely to their permanent staff; it was extended to their co-op students as well.

“We didn’t hesitate to make this available to our interns; they are valued members of our teams, and we wanted to ensure they were well-equipped to work from home,” says Emily Tunnicliffe, Shopify intern program lead. “Investing in young talent goes along with our core value of ‘building for long term’. Our intern program allows us to build a healthy talent pipeline for the future. This provides relevant and impactful work experience to students looking to build on their education.”

Some co-op students were overseas during their work term. Norway’s Cognite was quick to step in and prepare Waterloo co-op students for any potential issues while abroad. Cognite established a 24-hour hotline for students to call the company in case of emergencies. They also provided healthcare by a private clinic in Oslo and covered all costs related to COVID-19.

“We recognize that for some of the students, this is their first international experience, and we try our best to support them in any way we can,” says Maria Sviggum, human resources manager at Cognite. “The co-op students are important to Cognite not only for the excellent work they provide but for their mentality, work ethic and cultural aspect they bring to our company.”

Other businesses were forced to stop production as distributors closed their doors. This was the case with Litens Automotive Partnership, whose supply chain was interrupted and halted their work. Litens kept their winter 2020 co-op students on the payroll even though operations had ceased.

Kathy Naude, human resources manager at Litens, says they consider co-op students part of their team and wanted to treat them in the same way as we treat all their employees. “We recognize our co-op students needed their co-op credit, and they continued to be part of our team. Therefore, the decision was made to treat them the same as all Litens employees as one day, they may be our employee.”

Hiring more students

Beyond focusing on the immediate safety and well-being of current co-op students, many employers began to look ahead to the summer months. Recognizing the challenges students might face in finding work, some organizations wanted to help.

In Waterloo, Ontario, Bidvine, an organization that simplifies finding local, trusted service professionals, increased their hiring. “We hadn't planned on taking any co-op students for the summer because we were in the process of closing a financing round,” says Dan Stuart, Bidvine co-founder. “That process concluded within days of hearing that many co-op placements had been canceled. Having had such great experiences with co-op students in the past, I knew that there were so many young students faced with uncertainty, and it was something that I could do something about.”

Stuart went on to share that half of Bidvine’s engineers are former Waterloo co-op students. At one point early on, they had more co-op software engineers than full-time staff. Young talent is important to Bidvine. “It’s been in the fabric of their organization since the outset,” says Stuart.

Another organization decided to take on new co-op students from a post they spotted in social media. Executive Director of Marketing, Kevin Jones of PCI Geomatics spotted a LinkedIn post, promoting a student whose work term fell through. The message was posted by Jeff Chamberlain, a co-operative education account manager who was actively trying to connect students with jobs. Within one day, Jones met the student and hired him. “His skills and interests align very well with the current direction at PCI Geomatics, therefore we offered him a co-op position as a Quality Assurance Analyst,” said Jones.

PCI Geomatics isn’t new to hiring co-op students from Waterloo. “Co-op students bring fresh new perspectives on solving today’s challenges, and we seek those innovative voices to challenge the status quo,” says Jones.

The interest in hiring additional students didn’t stop there. Experienced co-op employer Desire2Learn (D2L) learned of students losing their summer co-op work terms and immediately met to determine possible opportunities. Nicky Foster, D2L’s co-ordinator of people and culture, says D2L wanted students to have an impactful summer work term. “Fresh perspectives are integral to growing our business and the products we offer,” says Foster. The transition from working in an office to home overall had low impact on the productivity at D2L. According to Foster, one of the biggest challenges that all employees face is missing the dogs in their office.