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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Studying with an eye on the job market

University life is not all lecture halls and keg parties. Many students are favouring schools that help them shape their future career path.

By Caroline Alphonso
The Globe and Mail

Career-minded students are quick to point out that a strong co-op work program and career resources right at their fingertips played a large part in luring them to their postsecondary institution. And no more so than at Sherbrooke University.

In fact, many who responded to the University Report Card survey said they are even more convinced that their university life will prepare them for a job at the end of the day.

“We are very well prepared for our future career, especially with the compulsory co-op program,” said one student. Another said, “We are well under way in preparation for our careers. Sherbrooke University has a good reputation and I am confident I will be able to find employment.”

These compliments vaulted Sherbrooke to the top of the podium for its co-op opportunities and the degree to which students feel that their university experience will prepare them for employment. It also was ranked high in its career counselling and placements services, just behind Queen’s, Laval and the University of Moncton at Moncton.

Pauline Leblanc, a career counsellor at Sherbrooke, works tirelessly, along with two colleagues, to help students sort through what career path they wish to pursue after graduation.

“They have too many choices. They don’t know what to choose,” Ms. Leblanc said. “With co-op it’s easier because they have experience in the job market.”

She added: “Co-op is why people come here.” The same can be said about students who attend the University of Waterloo, which also prides itself on its co-op program. Students ranked the university just behind Sherbrooke for its co-op opportunities.

“Co-op is the main reason for students attending Waterloo,” one student said in the URC survey. “It is a fantastic advantage over students in other universities. However, with the increase in enrolment of tech-based co-op programs, the opportunities are dwindling.”

Although students praised the university’s efforts in giving them a chance to network with employers or find employment after graduation through the co-op program, they expressed fear about the job market.

“I’m in co-op and it is a great opportunity, but with the lag in the economy, there isn’t as many jobs out there, so I’m not finding this as much of a worthwhile experience since I could be stuck with a job that doesn’t suit me just because it will get me the credit,” one student said.

According to another student: “The whole co-op process I found very stressful. It takes up a lot of your time and this term’s employment rates are looking pretty bad.”

Despite these worries about employment, students at Waterloo still praised their university professors, predicting their university experience would prepare them for employment.

“The type of education at [the University of Waterloo] seems to be highly relevant to what employers are looking for,” one student said.

At Queen’s, Bob Crawford, dean of student affairs, said the university considered having co-op programs across the board, but has found more success in another strategy.

When students complete their third year at Queen’s, they have the option of applying for a job and entering the work experience program, where they work for 16 months at a firm.

“We looked at co-op and found there is quite a bit of co-op in Ontario. So we thought this would be a different and unique market,” Mr. Crawford said.

While Queen’s didn’t rank high in the co-op opportunities category, students gave the university first place in its career counselling and support services. Students also felt their university experience would prepare them for employment.

“The career centre provides many job opportunities with on-campus recruitment,” one student said. Another said: “Queen’s is a competitive environment. It takes the best students out of high school and pushes them to new levels of achievement. It takes the best and makes them better.”

Queen’s compared its career services two years ago to other universities, and found that it carried many of the workshops students need, from resume writing to the job search process, Mr. Crawford said.

Although the career services department does not have as many resources as Mr. Crawford would like, he said that the people who run the department are to be credited for Queen’s strong ranking.

“[For a service that] has become quite heavily computer based, we think we have to maintain personal contact,” he said. “We really want our students to understand early on that there are tools available to them.

“We really try to tell students that the job search is a four-year process. It begins the day you enter Queen’s.” ROBTv Workopolis