How one grad’s career success started with her co-op work term employer

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Debra Kakaria working with co-workersWhen Debra Kakaria (Walker) (BES ’93) began her first of several co-op work terms with MacNaughton Hermsen Britton Clarkson Planning Limited (MHBC), she had no idea that she would one day become a partner of this firm. Nor could she have imagined that she would have the opportunity to work with so many other University of Waterloo alumni while providing future co-op students and graduates with the same valuable experience that has served her so well.

“I never imagined I would have the opportunities I have had since graduating and that I would make partner at a firm I highly respect. My position at the firm allows me to be more selective of the work I am involved with and to now lead and mentor graduates embarking on their careers, which is extremely fulfilling.”

Started in Kitchener in 1973 by Ian MacNaughton (BA ‘68/MA ’71, Urban and Regional Planning), today MHBC boasts more than 70 employees across six Ontario offices. This multi-disciplinary team of planners, urban designers and landscape architects specializes in land development, urban design, landscape architecture and resource management. Of the 22 partners that have shared ownership of MHBC, 16 are University of Waterloo grads, as are another 15 non-partner employees.

Debra credits her co-op experiences with the significant growth in people skills she experienced during her university years. Along with improved prioritization, better time management and a greater attention to detail, Debra learned about professional conduct and customer importance while maintaining ethical integrity in the face of political pressure.

Co-op terms brought classroom skills to life for Debra through real-world applications, and she is happy to return this favour to the co-op students and graduates her firm hires. MHBC has taken on approximately 60 students over the past two decades, most from the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo. In 2017 alone, 10 co-op students were employed.

“An ideal co-op student would value and exhibit quality work and client service. They would be practical yet innovative. They would be genuine, trust-worthy and eager to learn, while making an effort to have fun and be part of the team socially.”

Strong emphasis is placed on succession planning at MHBC.

“This starts with hiring the right people and growing from within,” said Debra. “Hiring co-op students helps to foster that philosophy by exposing the firm to a variety of young professionals and potential employees. Through that process, we seek out those individuals that are incredibly motivated, dedicated and share values that match the firm’s philosophy.”

Co-op students assist with a wide variety of day-to-day activities at MHBC. They research planning policies and monitor council meetings and agendas. They manage photo inventories and help prepare submissions for Ontario Municipal Board hearings. Many use their advanced software knowledge to prepare graphical illustrations for reports and presentations.

Now that it is her turn to hire, Debra is appreciative of the University’s ongoing efforts to make the hiring process even faster and easier.

“The quality of service from program advisors and administrators has always been top-notch,” she said. “The upgrades to the co-op facility make the interview experience seamless and extremely efficient.  Also, the online system is continually improving to make the selection and ranking process more user-friendly.”