Co-ops can be a ‘golden ticket’ for career success

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June 25, 2014 - by Basil Waugh

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UBC’s co-op program helped Ryley Humphry land a job with BC Women’s Hospital + Health Care Foundation where she has worked alongside CTV BC anchor Tamara Taggart, campaign chair of the hospital’s Newborn ICU campaign. Photo: Ryley Humphry

UBC’s co-op program helps students find work at Facebook, Google and other international companies

The first time Mark Zuckerberg said hello, Yu Yang Lai confesses to being a little bit starstruck.

The University of British Columbia student, who had just arrived at Facebook’s California headquarters for an internship, ran into the company’s billionaire CEO on his way to the cafeteria.

“I had never met anyone famous before that,” says Lai. “Suddenly, boom, there’s Mark Zuckerberg.”

Since then, Lai’s Facebook relationship status has gone from paid intern to full-time employee. The 25-year old student landed his dream job, complete with a six-figure salary, after showcasing his programming chops to the company over two four-month stints through UBC Faculty of Science’s co-op program.

The self-described “heavy user” of the social network will join Facebook later this summer, moving to either to Silicon Valley or London, England after he finishes his last class this month, nearly a year after signing his job offer. “It feels fantastic to have this job waiting for me,” he says.

Co-ops a true social network

Yu Yang Lai

Yu Yang Lai

Lai, who was born in Malaysia, is one of more than 4,100 students who gained valuable real-world work experience last year through UBC’s co-op programs, which connect students with paid work terms, professional training seminars, interview and job search skills, and a network of professional contacts and mentors.

UBC has the largest co-op program in Western Canada, pairing students with thousands of global and local employment partners annually, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Pepsi, Samsung, Time-Warner, Tesla Motors, Labatt, the Canadian Space Agency, Hootsuite, the Vancouver Canucks, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. To help prepare students for the global marketplace, at least 10 per cent of job placements are international.

Co-op students extend their studies by up to one year to perform four four-month work terms. While students are paid – equivalent to roughly $35,000 per year – the real attraction is the program’s track record of helping participants find solid employment after graduation, says Julie Walchli, Director of UBC’s Arts Co-op Program. Studies show that roughly 90 per cent of Canadian co-op participants secure full-time employment in their first month after graduation.

Microsoft’s rock star treatment

Vlad Zaharia

Vlad Zaharia

Vlad Zaharia, who was hired by Microsoft after three co-op terms, loved the “hands-on, real-world” experience he gained during his time at the tech giant’s headquarters in Redmond, WA. “Co-op teaches you stuff you just can’t learn in a classroom,” he says. “You’re thrust into so many situations. Working on cross-functional teams, time management, solving new problems and knowing when to ask for guidance.”

Over his three internships at Microsoft, Zaharia helped create a program that gives developers insights into how others use their code, enabling them to better understand their users needs and fix issues faster.

Having parlayed that experience into a lucrative full-time job, Zaharia refers to co-op as a “golden ticket.”

“I’m leaving university with money in the bank and a great job in my field,” says the 23-year-old, who graduated with a Computer Science degree in May.

At the company’s appreciation event for interns, he and his colleagues received rock star treatment worthy of the HBO series Silicon Valley: a private concert by Macklemore and Deadmau5, in a Boeing hangar, guided tours of their massive airplane factory and free Microsoft Surface Pro tablets.

Expanding horizons

While co-ops can help connect students with jobs at high-profile companies, it can also help them explore a more personal career path. For Arts student Ryley Humphry, 24, co-op helped her discover a job where she can make a positive impact on the community.

“Finding full time employment after an undergraduate degree can be challenging,” says Humphry, who had previously worked in the service industry and modeled internationally as a way to travel and gain new experiences. “Many employers won’t take a chance on you unless you have the right experience. Co-op helped me gain this very valuable experience while exploring a range of careers and working environments to find something that I love.”

Her first co-op was with Union Gospel Mission, a charity on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that offers services to combat poverty, homelessness and addiction. For Humphry, who has been organizing charity projects since high school, it was the perfect match.

At Union Gospel Mission, Humphry got a crash-course in fundraising, from event planning and interacting with donors to attracting sponsorships and assisting with coordination for the annual Christmas hamper program. She also helped graduates from the organization’s treatment programs share their experiences with donors. “These men would tell incredibly powerful stories of how the programs helped them turn their lives around and beat their addictions.”

The Sociology major, who graduated in May 2014, says the experience gave her a more nuanced and personal understanding of poverty, mental health and addiction.

Her final co-op was another fundraising role: this time with BC Women’s Hospital + Health Care Foundation. Working in the hospital where she was born, Humphry raised money for the hospital’s most urgent needs, including funding for equipment and research projects. By the end of her co-op term, she was offered a job and now works for them on a full-time basis.

Given the success of the program, Walchli says UBC is working to expose as many students to co-op as possible. Since 2009, UBC has expanded the program’s capacity by 33 per cent. Staff are actively recruiting additional employers and expanding professional training offerings.

“Co-op is a transformative experience, and we want to give as many students that opportunity as possible,” says Walchli, who is incoming president of the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education. “Applying for a co-op program once at UBC is one of the smartest decisions students can make for their futures.”

Learn more about UBC’s co-op programs in the Faculties of Science, Arts, Business, Engineering, Forestry, Kinesiology and on UBC’s Okanagan campus at www.coop.ubc.ca.

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