For its popular and growing co-op program, introduced in 2016, the Faculty of Information partners with a wide range of employers in the public and private sectors
When Ariana Cuvin was looking to study user experience design, she was immediately drawn to the Master of Information program at the Faculty of Information by its co-op option.
“It was the differentiator,” Cuvin says, adding that she had done her undergrad at the University of Waterloo, which was Ontario’s first big player in the co-op sphere. That Bachelor’s degree experience, with its built-in work term, convinced her of the value of getting hands-on experience while studying. “You can learn all the theory and all the process, but you need to apply it and can only get that through the experiential learning process,” she says.
For her co-op, Cuvin was placed at the provincial government’s Ontario Digital Service, which aims to deliver simpler, faster and better services for the province’s people and businesses. For her first assignment, she worked on a key benefits project ensuring the application process went smoothly. She was pleasantly surprised at the level of responsibility and the trust her colleagues had in her and her work. “It speaks to how well prepared we are,” Cuvin said. “We’ve proven that we are worthy and capable of handling that level of responsibility, which is really cool.”
“It’s a win-win situation. Co-op [students] get that real world exposure and we build a digital talent pipeline into the public service” – Shannah Segal, Ontario Digital Service
Ontario Digital Service is especially interested in students with an understanding of user experience design, which Shannah Segal, the Senior Manager for Experience Design, describes as “an emerging practice inside government.” Co-op students bring their theoretical knowledge while permanent employees give the students hands-on, day-to-day experience. “It’s very impactful and immediate work,” says Segal. “It’s a win-win situation. Co-ops get that real world exposure and we build a digital talent pipeline into the public service.”
The provincial government is not alone in recognizing the benefits of partnering with educational institutions for co-op programs. In 2022, the Faculty of Information placed 120 Master of Information students in co-op positions compared to some 20 students in 2016, when the program first launched. Students are placed in positions with federal government and universities as well as in the financial, technology and consumer goods sectors.
The country’s major banks have run co-op programs, alongside internships for years. At TD – where Paramvir Singh, who was part of the first Faculty of Information co-op cohort, now works as Senior Manager for Data-as-a-Service Technology – there is a centralized team that hires co-op students for intakes in January, June and September.
As an international student, Singh says his eight-month co-op at CIBC led to part-time job there and then to an even better permanent position at TD. “Co-op really helped people get good jobs,” says Singh, who later successfully applied for landed immigrant status.
The number and variety of co-op positions has also increased as a result of the pandemic and the growing acceptance of remote work. While pre-2020, most co-op employers required students to be onsite, many positions are now remote or hybrid. What’s more, co-op has more than fully recovered from its 2020 Covid crash and is placing more students than ever, according to Assistant Professor (Teaching Stream) Colin Furness, who oversaw the program until this year. “I still think it’s better to be onsite, but the value of remote placements is clear,” he said.
Many co-op students also end up working longer term for their co-op employers. Cuvin, who graduated in 2022, now has a full-time position at the Ontario Digital Service. Another UXD graduate, Abigael Pamintuan from the Class of 2021, accepted a permanent job as a UX designer with the software company Autodesk in January of this year.
Pamintuan was relieved when her Autodesk co-op, which ran from May to December 2020 in the heart of the pandemic, was not cancelled and went ahead as a fully remote position. Her job now is hybrid, but she mostly works at home in Toronto heading into the company’s downtown office for special events. Pamintuan is part of a scattered team working on ShotGrid, a production management and pipeline tool often used in television and gaming. Her product manager is in Oakland, California while several teammates are in Montreal.
Pamintuan originally chose co-op because “it just felt a bit more secure. I knew I would have certain resources I could access during my job search. There are a lot more companies that partner with schools going the co-op route, so it provided me access to those employers.”
With continuing demand for students and graduates in both the established and emerging information professions, the Faculty of Information is actively looking to partner with more employers for the co-op program. Furness also pointed out the value of its practicum course and placements, which he described as “a less intense commitment of one day a week during the term. It’s a very balanced way to have one foot in the workplace while still in school,” he said.
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