Outstanding employers – Co-op Employers of the Year for 2020

Education, Engineering, Co-op

- Kim Dias

Engineering student Sim Grewal (left) conducts a 3D scan. Credit: PCL Construction

All of us faced extraordinary challenges in 2020, including a pandemic that swept the globe. Throughout it all, co-op employers continued to provide UVic students with meaningful work, support, mentorship and invaluable experience. Each year, we recognize employers who have provided extraordinary learning opportunities to UVic co-op students.

The 2020 Employers of the Year are:

  • More than 50 employees: PCL Construction
  • Fewer than 50 employees: Oak and Orca Bioregional School
  • International Employer of the Year: Western Digital Thailand
  • New Co-op Employer of the Year: Trailmark Systems

PCL Construction

PCL Construction is a shining example of mentorship within the co-op program. They know that a co-op position isn’t just a job—it’s an opportunity.

PCL staff make a point to check in with co-op students to make sure their work is engaging, and that they’re meeting their goals and developing their professional competencies. The work students do at PCL is applicable, relevant and meaningful. “PCL helped me to apply my classroom learning to interesting, complex projects where I could see theoretical concepts become real,” one co-op student says.

As another students puts it, “Because the tasks were meaningful and the expectations were high, when I learned what to do and began to contribute meaningful work, I felt so much more confident in myself and the work I was able to produce.”

This year, PCL’s support of co-op students was particularly apparent in their response to COVID-19. They provided students with short-term contract work to tide them over until delayed co-op terms began and quickly switched students from on-site to remote work. The work they provided gave students safety and financial security in difficult times.

PCL has been dedicated to supporting co-op students since they hired their first UVic student in 2004. In the last three years, they have hired 87 UVic students for a total of 123 co-op placements. Over half these students were on their first co-op term, showing that PCL is dedicated to giving students their first break and supporting them every step of the way. They also support co-op programs across Canada—in 2020, they hired over 440 students across all disciplines.

Oak and Orca Bioregional School

Aila Simpson
Aila Simpson focuses on building out various activities for a new high school course Oak and Orca will be offering. Credit: Oak and Orca

The co-op experience at Oak and Orca Bioregional School emphasizes student voices, mentorship and community. The school’s core mission is to empower children to create fundamental social change towards more fulfilling and ecologically sustainable communities. Co-op students with Oak and Orca receive training and mentorship in curriculum development and design, with an emphasis on bioregional philosophies, freedom of student expression and choice, and Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.

From day one, co-op students are encouraged to seek help, support and guidance from all staff members in the school. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, co-op supervisor and UVic alumna Eva Boucek made sure that there was a dedicated COVID-safe work area so students could spend part of their week working at the school, making them feel more connected.

Co-op students with Oak and Orca find that they’re able to create their own roles and follow their own interests. They are given the opportunity to experience many different roles within the school and education system, including assisting teachers, writing subject-specific activities and curriculum, and hosting workshops. Even students who do not plan to follow a career in education have found the work valuable and inspiring.

One co-op student says, “The Oak and Orca team is a group of passionate, kind, and inspiring people who support you every step of the way. My supervisors and fellow co-op students are always open to giving feedback, discussing ideas and answering questions.”

Impressively, Oak and Orca increased their hiring substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite funding challenges and other difficulties brought on by the pandemic, Oak and Orca accessed grant funding which enabled them to triple the amount of co-op students they usually hire per work term over the last year.

Oak and Orca knows the importance of supporting co-op students and building a community for them. Students are allowed the freedom to cultivate their own experience while also being encouraged to ask for help and support when needed. “The people who work there are the kindest people you will ever meet,” one co-op student says. Oak and Orca shows that the co-op experience isn’t just about the work and learning outcomes—it’s about community.

Western Digital Thailand

Western Digital Thailand
UVic students Damon Hunka (left) and Genevieve Simmons (second from right) consult with other co-op students. Credit: Western Digital Thailand

Western Digital Thailand manufactures data storage solutions and makes a vital impact on students who are on international co-op work terms. They provide co-op students with international work experience, strong support from their employer and help adjusting to a new culture.

Western Digital Thailand offers positions to students in technical and non-technical fields. In technical positions, students are assigned a specific project that is tailored to their specific interests and expertise. Students in non-technical positions work in human resources. These positions are also tailored to the student—some work in recruitment, where they deliver orientation programs and intercultural training to new interns and local staff, while others work in community engagement.

Western Digital Thailand makes a vital impact not only on international students, but also within their own community. They don’t just offer work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities to students outside of Thailand—they create opportunities for Thai students, too. The company often participates in exchange programs, creating co-op placements for students from other countries and sending Thai students abroad for international WIL opportunities.

“I often thought that a career in the field of business was destined to be competitive and cut‐throat,” one student said. “But Western Digital Thailand has taught me that working for a large public company can be wholesome and fulfilling.” Part of this is due to the care Western Digital Thailand takes to look after co-op students. Each student is mentored throughout their whole work term, the mentors offering everything from professional guidance to advice on Thai culture. Despite the language barriers, students often comment how their peers are their “cultural guides” on Thai culture and Thai business etiquette.

Perhaps there is no better example of how Western Digital Thailand cares for co-op students than the experience of one student in 2019. When they fell gravely ill and had to be admitted to hospital, the Vice President of the company, Dr. Sampan Silapanad, personally met the student’s family when they arrived in Thailand to be with their son and offered his phone number to them so he could be the local support. He also personally contributed to the family’s Go Fund Me campaign to help cover medical and other costs.

Western Digital Thailand is exemplary of how co-op positions are much more than jobs. They’re opportunities for students to learn and grow. Western Digital Thailand’s dedication to work-integrated learning across the globe shows their passion for helping students find their way.

Trailmark Systems

Trailmark Systems is a cultural and environmental consulting firm that works with Indigenous traditional knowledge and scientific understanding. With them, co-op students work directly with First Nations, resource management boards, government departments and commercial collaborators. Though Trailmark Systems hasn’t been working with UVic co-op for very long, they’ve already hired students across a range of disciplines. Some co-op students have gone on to take permanent positions with them.

The Trailmark Systems team is small and diverse, and they value the fresh and unique perspectives co-op students bring. Co-op students are encouraged to interact frequently with senior staff, participate in brainstorming sessions and make decisions.

Students are trained to use the company’s internal systems, software platform and various other tools. They work on consultancy projects and software development. Trailmark Systems also works closely with students and UVic to define learning objectives and support students to achieve meaningful goals during their time with the company.

One co-op student remarked on the support he received, even from the head developer, who is located in Germany. Distance and seniority do not keep Trailmark Systems team members from connecting with and supporting co-op students.

The company-wide values of kindness, understanding and flexibility shine in Trailmark Systems’ dedication to the co-op program. Several team members were co-op students themselves, and their personal experience carries over to current co-op students. Co-op students have as much to share as they do to learn, and their perspectives and experience are valued greatly in Trailmark Systems.


In this story

Keywords: co-op, employment, student life

Publication: The Ring

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