When Canadore College student Krystal Robertson thinks back on her co-op experience, it was more than being parachuted from the relaxed campus life into the button-down environment of a government office.
A 16-week taste of the real world became a real confidence booster that she has translated into her studies.
The third year Canadore College Business Administration student in North Bay feels she has leg up on her peers when she graduates this spring into an uncertain job market.
The Sudbury native was part of Canadore's School of Business Co-operative Education Program, completing two placements, one at the town office in nearby Callander, and another at the Ministry of Transportation (MTO)'s McKeown Avenue offices in North Bay.
She was assigned to the ministry's outreach program to get young people in colleges, universities and high schools thinking about careers at the MTO and in the public sector.
The daily preparation, report writing, deadlines, problem-solving skills and the interaction with professionals helped take her abilities to another level.
"It's something you don't learn in school," said Robertson. "It really helped me step outside of my bubble."
Once a shy and reserved student, the experience enable her to deliver a presentation "with conviction" and sharpened her study skills.
"I've got 4.0 in all my classes and I think it's because I've been able to apply my real-world practical knowledge to the text book, and vice-versa."
She emerged from the placement feeling as if she had contributed something, and that the ministry had invested something back in her. Along the way, she squirreled enough money away to pay for a year's tuition. Robertson, who wants to get into the human resources field, highly recommends the program. "I don't know where I'd be if I didn't do it. I'm not sure if I would be achieving my academic goals."
Canadore has developed a student pipeline straight into the provincial ministries along with local mining suppliers, banks and small businesses in the city. Six programs at Canadore -- including business administration -- participate in co-op with as many as 50 students signed up.
The fresh blood and youthful enthusiasm is certainly welcomed in the MTO offices, said Cindy Bethune, head of the Ministry's Business Support Section in North Bay.
She serves as the point person placing Canadore students within the various provincial government offices in North Bay. The MTO has had five student placements in the last three years.
"We've been very successful and we enjoy having them," said Bethune. "We definitely have the work, the interest and we can provide the experience."
Though Robertson is entering a shaky job market, Bethune said despite a tough economy and current job freezes in many ministries, there are many job opportunities in the public sector as people in key positions retire in the next few years. One co-op student, David Lee, Canadore grad, Class of 2008, was hired 18 months ago as an MTO fleet administration clerk when a position came open.
Bethune said just the interview process alone is beneficial to the students. She participates in mock interviews and critiques the students along Canadore co-op advisor David Thompson.
His job is to play matchmaker in finding the right placement and job duties for each student.
"It's more than fetching coffee and delivering pizza, it's real work."
Co-op placements have been running at Canadore for 15 years but only in the business school for four. Canadore is the only Northern Ontario college with a business co-op program. Co-op are a good opportunity for any employer who is short of workers, needs help on small projects, or wants extra hands during the summer vacation period.
It's also a way to find and groom future employees.
"You're getting a student that's committed to working, they want to gain experience and be able to blend their education with real-life work experience," said Thompson. A wage subsidy offered through the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines pays up to $6 an hour to hire a co-op student. There is also a $1,000 tax credit.
Thompson wants to grow the program and make connections with companies across Canada. With 70 students expected to sign up next year, work placement has been especially popular among mature students who have returned to school for retraining and need to develop a network of contacts.
The work terms also act as extended job interviews for employers like North Bay businessman Tom Palangio, president of the Bonfield Group, which includes mining supplier Wipware.
"The experience has been nothing but good."
One summer placement, Mark Wagner, brought in some fresh ideas in working on advertising campaigns and on their web site, said Palangio.
"Sometimes with companies such as ours, we don't always see ourselves as others do.
"We are so close to our products, we assume other people view us at the same level. Maybe when we explain (ourselves) we skim over a lot.
Palangio said Wagner was such as good fit for the company, the young man's resume is in the top drawer.
"It's certainly been a good experience and we'd certainly like to hire him."