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Employers of the Year

Each year, we nominate outstanding co-op employers who have gone above and beyond to support co-op student learning. 

Our Employers of the Year receive an award and are honoured at our annual employer appreciation reception.

There are four categories: 

  • employers with more than 50 employees
  • employers with fewer than 50 employees
  • international employer
  • new co-op employer

2021 award recipients

Employer with more than 50 employees

Agriculture and Agrifood Canada - Summerland Research and Development Centre

Two students stand at the entrance to an Indigenous garden. There is a wooden arbour behind them. These students are Dana Johnson and Kyle Clarke.

Why does the co-op experience at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Summerland Research and Development Centre consistently exceed students’ expectations? It comes down to the diverse projects, unique research opportunities and meaningful mentorship.

Summerland RDC works to mitigate environmental pressures, control biological threats, and integrate sustainable production and processing systems to deliver high-quality wine grapes and tree fruits.

The development of environmentally and economically sustainable methodologies ensures the success of Canada’s agricultural industries locally, nationally and internationally.

Between 2011 and 2021, Summerland RDC has provided 122 co-op work term placements. In spite of the challenges involved in responding to COVID-19, the Summerland RDC increased its hiring substantially between summer 2020 and fall 2021. Many students who completed their first co-op with Summerland RDC have continued on as part-time staff.

Co-op students are given opportunities to develop their skills in the lab, work on diverse teams, carry out research and outdoor field work, and more.

“Hands-on experience is really important,” says Dr. Mehdi Sharifi, a research scientist at AAFC. “We provide an environment that is safe, that is very diverse, and that has a lot of opportunity for training and learning.

A recent student-led project included the planning, development and construction of the first ever Indigenous food garden at an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station, where students have been learning about various Indigenous traditional food sources and their management and stewardship practices.

“Last year, two Indigenous students from UVic, Dana Johnson and Kyle Clarke, came to work on this new project—we piloted it for the rest of the country,” says Dr. Sharifi. “They were amazing—they did it from their heart. They also did a presentation of their research to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) and did an extraordinary job.”

UVic environmental studies student Dana Johnson found the experience was a way to honour her ancestry. “I found myself striving to decolonize my mind and ways of being in an effort to give back to the many lands and communities that hold me up,” she says.

Co-op students are included in various activities beyond contributing to research projects, such as participating discussion groups with other scientists and students.

These experiences enable the students to strengthen their analytical and critical thinking skills, their public speaking and writing skills, and their ability to discuss complex ideas.

Employer with fewer than 50 employees

Dusanj and Wirk CPA

Co-op students at Dusanj and Wirk CPA take part in a staff dinner.

Every work term at Dusanj & Wirk CPA has one thing in common: an incredible learning experience. The chartered professional accounting firm considers co-op students as true full-time employees and assigns the same responsibilities from day one. This trust is combined with mentorship and guidance that ensures success for the entire team.

Dusanj & Wirk is known for its warm and welcoming culture. The firm offers many specialized training sessions and one-on-one mentoring to complement students’ academic knowledge. They also create a cooperative environment where students feel encouraged and welcomed to ask questions.

Often, they are partnered with junior accountants who can relate to the students’ experience and share career advice. 

“My experience with Dusanj & Wirk has been extremely positive and I consider myself very lucky to have spent all three of my co-op terms with this firm,” says a former co-op student. “I felt very at home here and with the level of responsibility they offer their co-op employees I often forgot that I was still a co-op student!”

The firm also offer plenty of opportunities to meet with other co-op students and staff accountants as well as managers and partners, including regular team building events like bowling, cooking classes, tax parties, Friday socials and other celebrations.

Currently, 15 UVic alumni (30% of their staff) are working on the team, 11 of whom began their career as co-op students with the firm.

In addition to giving students the opportunity to do meaningful work related to their academics, Dusanj & Wirk CPA supports many co-op and career initiatives here at UVic. Their staff regularly participate in mock interviews, attend our “Co-op + Career Networking Night” and have never missed UVic’s annual Accounting Networking Evening.

Dusanj & Wirk CPA provides work experiences that tie directly to students’ academics and career goals, while also giving them the tools and training to excel in that work.

International employer

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Thailand

Despite a shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Thailand (CanCham) in Bangkok, Thailand, went above and beyond to keep co-op students connected to their team.

Although students worked remotely during that period, they received strong mentorship from the entire CanCham team that allowed them to stay connected to the larger team and work culture.

CanCham Thailand has been operating for 28 years to promote and enhance Thai-Canadian relations by facilitating trade in both directions; co-op has been a part of their employment strategy for close to a decade. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the association made efforts to continue to hire co-op students in a remote capacity.

“UVic students are really agile and quickly adapt to the work environment and culture,” says Jen Meckhayai, CanCham Thailand’s executive director. “Students bring their Canadian perspective, and a new way of doing things, to the team. This makes a huge difference when we are planning projects and events.”

CanCham Thailand conducts a combination of over 35 business and social events each year. Students complete a variety of tasks for the Chamber, including conducting market research and writing business reports for Canadian organizations and the Embassy of Canada in Thailand.

Students are also involved with identifying potential co-op or internship opportunities at CanCham member organizations by connecting to Canadian employers in Thailand. This work has led to increased co-op opportunities in the region.

UVic co-op students are tasked with projects that allow them to develop their project management skills, and to network with business professionals in the community.

Since 2019, CanCham Thailand has been a key co‐op employer offering work‐integrated learning experiences in Thailand and remotely to students from a range of UVic co-op program areas. Their outstanding commitment to supporting student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make a positive impact.

New co-op employer

Shawn Veltman and Associates 

Shawn Veltman is the owner and founder of Shawn Veltman & Associates Inc., which specializes in helping companies create high performing sales and marketing teams. Shawn has recruited seven co-op students for a total of 12 placements over the past four years.

Though Shawn Veltman & Associates focuses on software projects, Shawn has recruited students from a wide variety of disciplines for his team.

Work terms begin with a full month of one-on-one training with Shawn, ranging from sharing knowledge of specific software applications to tips on improving students’ abilities and skills to work remotely. Students are then introduced to smaller projects and problems and by month three they are fully immersed in the work.

Shawn continues to impart entrepreneurial skills by working with the students as a partner even after their co-ops are finished. Many former co-op students find work with start-ups and established companies after their work terms.

To quote a former co-op student, “I do not think I would be where I am at in my career without the mentoring that I received from Shawn.”

Beyond stretching his own budget to hire more than one student for the summer 2021, Shawn bridged a new connection with a health technology company to encourage them to hire two students he interviewed but couldn’t hire due to lack of funding.

This connection has allowed UVic co-op to establish a successful relationship with this employer, who is now actively hiring and recruiting UVic co-op students.

Shawn encourages students to step outside their comfort zone while integrating with their academic interests. Co-op students are treated as equals and are empowered to challenge themselves and take responsibility for their projects.

He regularly checks in with the students to ensure the work is engaging, that professional competencies are being developed, and that students feel like part of the team.

Nomination process

  • co-op coordinators work closely with students and employers to nominate an employer each year
  • if you’re nominated, your co-op coordinator will contact you to get your permission and to gather some information about your organization
  • coordinators submit nominations in the fall, and recipients are typically contacted in early January

Selection criteria

Our Employer of the Year Committee reviews nominations and selects recipients based on:

  • the quality of the work experience
  • the employer’s engagement with Co-op and Career through participation in events and other opportunities
  • support of students’ professional growth such as academic development, memberships or participation in professional associations
  • the mentorship provided to the student during the work term