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Recently, our co-op students returned from their various jobs as co-op students at leading companies in the real estate industry. It was exciting to hear about their experiences, about their goals going in and their advice to the following cohort of co-op students as they learn to navigate the job market.

The diversity of jobs shows the range of the program: appraisal, brokerage, development, government, property management, … Some worked at a desk while others traveled around the province as part of their job. This diversity of jobs matches diversity of students’ personalities and the sometimes-misunderstood nature of the industry.

Most of their personal learning objectives were shared since, for nearly all of the students, it was their full time job. Another member of GREG has noted: graduation means that, instead of choosing whether to attend that class which starts at 8:30 am, you now have to be at work at 8:30 or 8:00 or else.

While a co-op student may have worked as a part-time server in a restaurant or as a cashier at a grocery store, learning to manage with a work full-time job opens many eyes. If you have worked for many years, it may be hard for you to remember how mysterious it can be to

  • write professionally as a representative of a billion dollar company
  • work an photocopier or fill out an expense account
  • ask the boss for help without sounding stupid or, worse, incompetent.

Learning that it is acceptable or encouraged to ask question is an incredibly important insight. In his Guide to Life book, Chris Hadfield notes a common dilemma facing anybody on a new job or task.  If given a choice of trying to be -1, 0, or +1, too many “stars” create problems by trying to be a +1. If you ask the right question, you might be invited into a meeting behind closed doors where you see “how the sausage is made”. Which made for fascinating stories during the presentations.

I was surprised at the number of people who said that their job focused on problem solving. These students were given enough independence to make a real difference which, in the wrong hands, could be risky for the employer.

Beyond what was intended or expected, real learning occurs by meeting the unintended or unexpected. Many of the students talked about the “soft skills” they learned. These skills complement familiar hard skills, such as becoming fluent with Excel or knowing how to work with various industry-standard databases. One student even learned how to throw an axe competitively. Each individual thanked their supervisors for the help and several individuals advertised their position to the students now applying.

The presentations themselves were, on the whole, well done. None of the presenters used notes; they stood and related their story to the audience. Some cracked a couple of jokes. In other words, they were better than me when I was in their shoes.

These jobs are not the jobs that students aspire to after graduating but, for example, being a mystery shopper who evaluates the competition is good training for when you become CEO and have to overcome the competition.

Non co-op students have to learn these things later, when the cost of a mistake can be more severe. This fact is why we encourage all students who apply to our major to consider co-op studies.

These individuals made the faculty who teach them look good.