When I am connecting with government officials, post-secondary administrators and industry leaders from around the world, I am most often asked about Waterloo’s co-op program.
I get questions about its benefits to the students, to the learning process, to business, to research, to the University and about how it impacts society. With more than 60 years of experience with co-operative education, it’s clear to me that our co-op does all of these.
Co-op is in our DNA. It has been part of our institution from its very founding and after six decades of evolution it is delivering for our students, our employer partners and for Canada.
We looked at the economic impact of the University’s Operating and Out-of-Town Student Expenditures, and Research contributions in Part I of this Economic Impact Series. In Part II, I want to explore the University of Waterloo’s world-renown co-op program and what it does for our overall economic well-being in Waterloo, in Ontario and across the country.
Co-op Creating Jobs and Adding Millions to Canada’s Economy
Our co-op program is known for providing students with valuable work experience that they can take back into the classroom. Our five-year co-op program, combining two-years of paid work experience with rigorous academic learning, is the gold standard in experiential, work-integrated learning. It is also a driver for economic activity and job creation.
Deloitte’s recent Economic Impact Report found that the University of Waterloo’s Co-op program contributed $567 million to Canada’s GDP in 2018/19. Co-op’s contributions to Canada are taken even further when you discover that we created or sustained 5,779 full-time jobs in Canada, more than 4,000 of them in Ontario. These numbers don’t even include the co-op work terms themselves showing the long-range impact of one university’s co-op program.
These contributions are so important because they stretch all the way across Canada — and the rest of the world — but they also recur every year adding more than $3 billion to our economy annually. The economic gains, however, are not limited to jobs and GDP.
Delivering Results for Students and Employers
Let’s take a look at some background information of our co-op program at Waterloo. Waterloo is home to the world’s largest co-op program with more than 22,900 undergraduate and graduate students taking part in cooperative education. I’m lucky to know Waterloo’s students are truly exceptional and it shows that 97.6 per cent of them earned jobs with our employer network of 7,100 businesses. That involved a staggering 99,000 job interviews last year. Delivering this massive program is why co-op at Waterloo is so deeply embedded in our DNA.
Students earned more than $285 million dollars collectively in 2018/19 for an average of $12,400 per student each work term, according to Deloitte’s study. Student’s weren’t the only ones seeing benefits from our co-op program. Employers were bringing outstanding Waterloo talent into their organizations and they were seeing direct economic gains from their co-op employees as well.
Deloitte’s study found that our 7,100 employer partners saw $525 million in gains in 2018/19. This was across industries and in 60 countries. This means that for every $1 an employer invested in hiring a Waterloo co-op student, they saw a gain of $2.
You cannot argue with results and this is one of the biggest reasons we continue to see ongoing employer satisfaction with our talented students and why the vast majority of our students report having positive work term experiences year after year.
Co-op: A Powerful Force for Entrepreneurship
Co-op has also changed the face of entrepreneurship in Waterloo region and across Canada. We hear from our student and alumni entrepreneurs that, in addition to the priceless experience and skills built up through co-op work terms, the money that is earned helps to cut down on the amount of student loan debt students will face when they graduate.
Graduating with lower debt levels is integral to increasing someone’s risk tolerance to starting their own venture. The correlated effects of gaining two years of paid work experience and having lower debt loads upon graduation has changed the face of Canadian entrepreneurship as nearly 1 in 5 technology founders in Canada was educated at the University of Waterloo according to a recent Impact Centre study.
In the final part of my Economic Impact Series, I’ll take a look at how Waterloo is building on the foundations of talent to support entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship programs — and the profound impact Waterloo startups and businesses are having on Canada’s economy.