CBU co-op program revived as students eye competitive job market

A revival of Cape Breton University's work-placement co-op program has paid off handsomely for bachelor of business administration student Allana Rendell.

Her work term at Breton Chartered Accountants in Sydney, N.S., last May went so smoothly she continues to work three days a week for the firm and has been offered a full-time job upon graduation.

"When I got to the workplace everything was new," she said, adding the firm had software programs not available in her university course that provided her with practical on-the-job training.

Her experience is a success story for a co-op program that had fallen dormant at CBU, according to the university's student placement officer, Jennifer Currie. For a time, she said, students seemed less interested in placements and just wanted to "get their degree as quickly as possible."

But that changed, she said, as the job market became more competitive and students realized the benefits of "getting work experience, getting paid and meeting employers."

"That's why we revived it," she said.

The benefits

Cape Breton University has recently found co-op placements for 40 students and is in the process of placing others in the spring and summer sessions. Students are paid and earn credits.

Employers, Currie said, can apply for funding from the province to hire a co-op student. The benefit to employers is that potential future employees gain experience, she said.

Dave Douglas, the sales manager for Celtic Colours International Festival, said participating in the co-op program was a good fit for his organization.

"It just really fell in line with what we do at Celtic Colours," he said, noting the community studies in music co-op student was a step dancer and piano player who contributed a lot to the 2016 festival.

The co-op program is also a benefit, even when things don't work out, Currie said. Some students only realize their area of study isn't the right fit for them when they move from the academic setting to a workplace.

For example, an accounting major may discover they actually doesn't like the line of work in time to make an academic switch.