Example of a Co-operative Education experience

Priyanka studies political science. After a year of classes, she spent her first four month co-op term working in a local city councillor's office. After another eight months at school, she spent four months working in the communications department of a large company. The experience went really well, and she stayed at the company for her third and fourth co-op terms before joining the company full time after graduation.

Benefits to Employers

  •  Fill short term staffing needs
  • Help shape the industry’s incoming workforce
  • Significant funding available to reduce labour costs of students 
  • Strengthen brand reputation among students

Are you an employer who wants to get started doing co-op? Contact us here.

Benefits to Students

  • Gain professional work experience before graduation - according to UBC, students with co-op experience report starting salaries 15 per cent higher than those without.
  • Earn an income while completing your degree
  • Network and develop lasting connections within industry



We recommended reaching out to a campus career centre, co-op office or equivalent before hiring a student. These centres have significant resources to make the process easier, including: 

  • Frameworks for how to assess your students, 
  • Information on grants and wage subsidy programs your business may be eligible for, 
  • Hiring and onboarding material designed for students, 
  • Tips for building a WIL program that works best for your organization. 

Building a stronger relationship with colleges and universities can have long-term benefits for companies. You can give feedback on the strengths (and areas of improvement) for different programs to make sure that students have the right skills for a changing work environment. We do recognize, however, that sometimes the hiring timelines for employers and for schools don’t match up. When this is the case, we hope that the materials we’ve developed can help fill in these gaps so that both your organization and students can have a meaningful work experience. 

Co-op and internship recruitment cycles typically begin 4-8 months before a placement starts, which is when students are thinking about their next term and must sort out where to live if they need to move cities. For example, if an employer wants a student to begin working in May, they should begin advertising the position in February at the latest - especially for employers that don’t live in areas with university or college campuses. Some schools have highly structured recruitment processes for their WIL programs, so be sure to confirm with a school if you intend to hire from a particular program.

With some schools calling their programs “co-ops” and others calling their programs “internships”, spotting the difference can be hard.. 
Generally, the major difference between most co-op and internships programs is that co-ops usually consist of alternating academic programs and paid work terms. Throughout the course of their time in school, a student might take three or more co-op placements at different companies or organizations, with the expectations for the student rising at each subsequent placement.
Internships are usually a “one-and-done” model, with a student doing one internship during their time in school. An internship might last 12 to 16 months, during which they become more comfortable with the work and take on more responsibilities.
That being said, there are a few co-op programs that function more like internships: students take multiple work terms back-to-back with the same organization. In Canada, a not-for-profit organization,  Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL) accredits co-op programs that meet their criteria. 

One big difference between co-op and work experience is the relationship between the employer and the school. Co-op programs are usually structured more formally, and allow for more feedback between a business and a university or college. This can allow for a longer term relationship, in which employers’ feedback about student performance can be incorporated into the curriculum. Co-op programs, including accredited programs, also provide a roadmap for employers on how to build WIL into their organizations, have structured feedback and assessment, and clear guidelines for hiring. 
The reality is, however, that not all post-secondary schools have co-op or internship programs. Work Experience is a form of WIL that fills these gaps. In this case, employers trade the benefit of more flexibility (timelines; student assessment; start and end dates) with the challenge of not having as much support or a roadmap for how to implement WIL in their organization. 

Certain types of WIL are sometimes called “micro-WIL.” This generally refers to forms of work-integrated learning, such as applied research projects and field studies programs, that are less than a full academic semester (e.g. are shorter than about four months.) These short bursts of work-integrated learning still expose students to the realities and pressures of the workforce, but are less immersive than full time WIL, such as an internship, co-op or apprenticeship.