When Leadership Goes Full Circle

When I think of my career path, I like to say that things went full circle for me. I truly believe that all the opportunities I got were more than just a “right place, right time” type of thing. It was the result of the hard work I had put into my career as soon as I started my post-secondary studies. I think it’s important to never stop believing in your abilities and to know that every mistake is just a step closer to greatness. That’s what I always tried to keep in mind.

Things changed for me when I first enrolled at the University of Ottawa in Political Science. Little did I know then that the many opportunities I was offered would have shaped who I am today. During the summer 2013 semester, I had my first CO-OP term at the CO-OP office. Fast forward six years and I am now the Accounting & Finance Program Coordinator for CO-OP. When I started my journey within the work-integrated learning field, I did not know that it would have such a profound impact on my experience and future career.

As a student, I was fortunate enough to live the CO-OP experience offered at the University of Ottawa, the second largest in Ontario. This allowed me to gain real-world experience and put theory into practice. This led to a significant increase in my grade point average. I also gained valuable soft skills and started developing a professional network. I might not have developed these things without those experiences. I am glad that networking is one of the skills I learned, as it is a vital part of the job search process in 2019. Because of it, I secured three of my four CO-OP terms as well as my full-time position following graduation.

CO-OP employers do much more than simply providing students with work experience. They help students hone their technical skills, challenge them to apply theoretical knowledge to solve problems and understand what types of opportunities are available following graduation. On that matter, I could easily testify with all the CO-OP experiences I had. The thing is, the program is not just a service, it is an educational experience that joins employers and the future workforce; to build a better workforce. I am a firm believer that for our program to be successful, it needs to be a win-win; students need to be able to build on their academic foundation, while employers receive an asset for their team. You might not realize, but an employer’s impact can go much deeper than simply supervising the student on work tasks. Taking an interest in the student’s career path, serving as a mentor, providing an opportunity to grow and learn in a safe environment are examples of how CO-OP employers have gone beyond their responsibilities in helping to shape a student’s future.

As a CO-OP Program Coordinator, I interact with numerous employers daily. Currently, my portfolio consists of over 500 contacts, which can make communicating with everyone a daunting task. From my experience, I know the impact those employers have. Therefore, I try to go above and beyond with all of them. With this attitude, I pride myself on still maintaining a personal relationship with each organization and their hiring team. I find it allows for better communication, which leads to positive employer experience. By understanding the needs of my employers, listening to their concerns and feedback to improve our program, I show them we value their support.

An aspect that I enjoy about the coordinator role is that it is not a “sales” job. As I mentioned earlier, CO-OP is much more than a product. There needs to be a good fit between the student and the organization, or it will not be a beneficial work term for either party. If the work is too challenging or demanding, the student will not succeed. Meanwhile, if the employer is not getting the asset they had hoped for, their team’s performance, projects or daily tasks may suffer. Whenever a new organization expresses an interest in CO-OP, I like to reiterate this point. We are not in the business of selling a service; rather we are tasked with assisting employers with their student recruitment efforts and help students’ secure CO-OP work terms.

I would like to conclude by saying that we value a great experience for each party involved. Therefore, when I work with new and recurrent employers, I am not selling them a fabricated and perfect idea of what CO-OP is about. I present it as an experience and like anything else, it comes with ups and downs. If there is one thing that I learned during my whole journey with CO-OP is that nothing is perfect, but that if everyone works together to create something great, their efforts will be rewarded. And that’s exactly what CO-OP is about, a real look into the job market and the future workforce, working together to create a better tomorrow.

Doug Spencer, CO-OP Program Coordinator, uOttawa