Timeline: Co-operative and Experiential Education’s changes and adjustments throughout COVID-19

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Students walking on campus with masks

By: Namish Modi

During an unprecedented time, University of Waterloo’s co-op employers stepped up in a big way.

Waterloo’s employers showed great flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic by moving to remote interviews and work terms and applying for various financial assistance programs to hire more students. Our employment partners played a vital role in the smooth continuation of the world’s largest co-operative education program.

On March 13, 2020, operations were normal at Waterloo’s William M. Tatham Centre.

Three days later, as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, everything changed drastically.

In the week beginning March 16, 1,397 students were scheduled to interview for 297 roles for the Spring 2020 term. All interviews moved remote and 92 per cent of the co-op roles were filled as 273 students found employment.

Over the course of the past year, more than 19,000 students secured work terms, as employers and students alike adapted during a disruptive time.

“We owe much of our success in finding placements for more than 19,000 students between the Spring 2020 and Winter 2021 terms, to the strong relationships we maintain with our alumni, faculty, staff and global networks of more than 7,100 employers,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE).

A year in review

  1. 2020
    1. Mar
      1. covid -19 graphic
        Winter 2020 & COVID-19
        • March 13 was a normal day at the Tatham Centre, with interviews and appointments taking place.
        • Three days later, as COVID-19 escalated in the week of March 16, we shift in-person interviews for 1,379 students to remote interviews. We fill 92 per cent of the co-op roles and 273 students find employment. 

        "As quickly as we could employ students, other jobs were being rescinded. Collectively, the co-op team redirected their energy, especially as travel restrictions were introduced. The focus shifted to finding and maintaining virtual opportunities for the students. The most important thing is we are flexible and agile."

        JEREMY REED | Director, Co-op Services

    2. Apr
      1. spring 2020 work term flexible pathways
        Flexible pathways
        • CEE works with Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada to help temporarily shift the co-op accreditation requirements from a sixteen-week to an eight-week minimum.
        • Pathways include less required co-op terms and help students maintain co-op degree requirements, begin in Spring 2020, with ongoing updates each term.
    3. May
      1. globe with futuristic graphic
        Future Ready Talent Framework
        • The newly launched FRTF helps students, staff, and educators prepare for a complex future workforce by outlining 12 core competencies.
      2. students looking at computer
        Digital Fundamental Skills
        • Employers play a role in helping students prepare for a complex workforce by partnering to launch courses such as digital marketing, e-commerce.
        • As of February 26, 2021, 867 students, including 718 co-op students, enrolled in the courses.
      3. student wearing mask
        Spring employment
        • 5,650 students employed in Spring 2020 term (May to August).
    4. Jun
      1. graphic of multiple paths turning into one
        Webinar “Future-proofing your organization in a COVID-19 world: Are you prepared for the next generation of talent?”
        • 149 of the 368 non-Waterloo attendees were registered employers in WaterlooWorks.
        • 103 of the 149 registered organizations posted at least one job from Spring 2020 to Winter 2021, and a total of 1,723 jobs were posted over that time.
        • A total of 931 co-op students were hired by 83 of the employers that attended the webinar.
    5. Sep
      1. women walking with yellow wall , wxl logo
        Webinar “Future of Work & Your Talent Pipeline: What is COVID-19 teaching us?"
        • Over 500 people, including current and prospective employers along with HR industry professionals, attend a webinar hosted by Work-Learn Institute (WxL, formerly WatCACE) and Human Resources (HRD) Canada Magazine.

        “In tandem with the research of Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute, we’ve been able to gather data from one of the world largest databases of student talent and global employers to reveal insights about the future of work and apply that data along with the FRTF to CEE’s programming to ensure relevance to the future world of work and the information needs of policy-makers and government.”

        NORAH MCRAE | Associate Provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education

      2. girl on computer video call
        Arts co-op student website
        • Site launches, focuses on value exceptional Arts students bring to employers
      3. student on phone wearing mask
        Fall employment
        • 5,960 students employed in Fall 2020 (September to December).
    6. Oct
      1. Employer impact awards
        Employer Impact Awards
        • CEE launches and runs first-ever Employer Impact Awards, virtually. Six outstanding winners and honourable mentions were announced.
        • Splunk receives Impact in Student Experience award for highest number of co-op student votes.
        • Awards include 13 feature videos and stories which highlight the exemplary experiences students are gaining in the workplace.

        “The fact that University of Waterloo students voted for Splunk to win this award shows just how much impact our student voices can make – and how much co-op employers like Splunk encourage them to be strong, capable and career-ready talent with the potential to be future global leaders.”

        ROSS JOHNSTON | Executive Director, Co-operative Education

      2. you're invited to the career fair
        P4E Career Fair
        • 94 organizations register for first virtual Career Fair, which is hosted by Waterloo and partnering institutions.
        • 797 of the 1,793 total students are from Waterloo.
  2. 2021
    1. Jan
      1. point click care
        The impact of Waterloo’s Arts students
        • The first of CEE’s series on Arts students’ impact in organizations begins with profile on PointClickCare.
        • Story and video focus on value, unique skills Arts students bring to the organization.
      2. lock graphic, deloitte and waterloo logo
        Deloitte, Waterloo launch new cyber security course
        • Course builds students awareness of current cyber terminology
        • “Cyber security becomes even more important in this digital interconnected, global economy.”
    2. Feb
      1. laptop that says job fair
        P4E Job Fair
        •  123 organizations register, 649 Waterloo students attend virtual event.
        • 101 of the employers at the event currently actively hire from Waterloo. 
    3. Mar
      1. girl sitting at computer wearing mask
        Winter/Spring employment
        • 8,132 students employed in Winter 2021 (January to April). 3,297 students have secured work terms for Spring 2021 (May to August).

How did our employers help?

At the outset of COVID-19, D2L, who regularly hires Waterloo co-op students, tried to help students whose future work terms were in jeopardy due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

“When we started to hear stories of students losing their co-op jobs, we immediately met with senior leaders across the business to determine how we could create opportunities,” says D2L People and Culture Co-ordinator, Nicky Foster.

Some students on Winter 2020 co-op terms shifted to remote work as the pandemic escalated in March, while others saw their terms end early. Students lost their upcoming spring work terms too.

Shopify Inc. provided each of its employees – including Waterloo co-op students - a $1,000 stipend to set up their home offices. Cognite, a Norway-based company, set up a 24-hour hotline for students to call in case of emergencies. They also provided healthcare through a private clinic and covered all COVID-19 related costs.

Throughout the year, Waterloo’s employers matched our students’ ability to adapt, and communicate, in a new environment.

BlackBerry, a local tech organization, continues to hire Waterloo students during the pandemic because they witnessed students’ abilities to communicate effectively.  Meanwhile, these strong communication skills are further exhibited in the students’ ability to thrive in a variety of roles.

Nermina Lika, talent program manager at PointClickCare, says that the students they hired adjusted quickly to the new virtual environment.

“COVID has accelerated the need for us to have a broader focus on the soft skills,” Lika says. “We can teach the technical skills. We now place a higher importance on the soft skills.”

A big part of PointClickCare’s goal is to provide students autonomy and empowerment, allowing them to add value to the team through innovation. Those skills have become especially important in our current work environment.

Learn more about how Waterloo employers are supporting co-op students here.