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I recently had the pleasure of seeing some presentations from our co-op students about their recent placements. It was a requirement for them, and an opportunity to pass on some lessons to more junior students. There may be several lessons.

The diversity of jobs in co-operative education matches the diversity of jobs in “real estate” as a whole. No two students had the same experience: for example, students this term were placed at organizations such as Altus Group, Allied REIT, First Capital Realty, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Barry Lyons Consulting. (Thank you to them for helping our students.)

I was a bit surprised at how many of the jobs seemed to involve Halloween parties or Habitat for Humanity build parties or Friday afternoon pizza parties.   That is not how I remember my summer jobs.

They talked about how much they had learned as a by-product of their time. Learning some fairly fancy aspects of Excel and other software programs was common. Time management skills were frequently mentioned. As a more subtle comment, they noted that one of the benefits of taking co-op jobs in different sectors means that they could see how different organizations move at different speeds.

Being in a junior position meant that they got to see some interesting personalities. Communication skills and problem solving skills definitely helped when dealing with the more colourful personalities.

After describing their activities, the students were asked to think about advice for others in a similar position. There is the advice which I expected: e.g. work hard, ask questions when confused…

Other bits of advice were more far-sighted and may reflect the maturity of these students: for example, the importance of acting professionally (i.e. show up on time, wear appropriate clothes, no careless mistakes, submit work in time for the supervisor to check). Many of the students thanked their supervisors. Understanding how to act is critical as a person makes the transition from having the mindset of a teenager to the mindset of a full-time employee.

The emphasis placed on a different bit of advice was more surprising to me: on the job, be hungry for work. Offering to help at menial tasks leads to meeting more people. Several students mentioned that they did filing or cleaning the data on a database. At the time, I am sure that it was seen as boring (especially to a student who thinks that, in a couple of years, they will be making million dollar deals and sipping cocktails on a beach each weekend). But that exposure also means that the student now knows what information is available and where to find it. This “menial” work will enable them to close a deal when competitors are still trying to find what they need.