School is an important foundation to start your career, but you may realize after graduation it isn’t always enough and you need more experience. I learned this lesson after graduating from the University of Ottawa last year, and since the new school year has begun I thought I would share my experiences and thoughts about the importance of taking your education beyond the classroom. Ontario’s youth employment rate is 16.8 per cent (July 2012), so students need to find a way to get as much experience as they can before they start job hunting.
There are four main ways to do this:
1. Co-op or work placement
3. Part-time or summer jobs
I now attend Algonquin College for public relations, where experiential learning is a large component of the curriculum. We practice writing news releases, media advisories, run our own charity events, go on a work placement, and the list goes on. Algonquin College president Kent MacDonald recently announced that by 2017, every full-time student will have the opportunity to participate in a work placement. This is a fantastic announcement for students and I hope more institutions follow suit.
Co op or work placement
Not all programs focus on hands-on learning, so work and co-op placements are great ways to prepare yourself for the workplace, expand your network, learn about yourself, and possibly find your first job. They give you the opportunity to apply the skills you have spent the past few years learning and practicing in class. If you are considering a post secondary program, I recommend that you do your research, talk to other people who have taken the program(s) you’re interested in, and consider the value a placement or co-op option can add.
But what if your program doesn’t have a placement or co-op? Volunteering and finding a part-time or summer job are also excellent ways to take your education beyond the classroom. Volunteering is the easiest because there are many organizations looking for volunteers. Some resources to start with are Charity Village (@CharityVillage) and Volunteer Ottawa (@VolunteerOttawa). Also take advantage of opportunities that may come to class or through your connections; my class was able to volunteer for the Juno awards this past winter! Volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about and it will be rewarding. Besides the experience, it is important to be involved in your community and give back. You will also make great connections!
Part-time or summer jobs
Finding a part-time or summer job in your field is tougher do to, but not impossible. Many students (including myself) need to work to fund their education, and this allows you to get the experience you need and have an income at the same time. Make sure you check out job opportunities on campus for your students’ association and orientation departments, summer work programs in your city, and register for FSWEP (Federal Student Work Experience Program). Apply early – lots of places that recruit students for the summer start taking applications in the winter, so dont miss the deadlines.
I did not network or even realize the value of networking before I started the public relations program at Algonquin. Make sure you join a professional association such as the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Membership is inexpensive ($50/year) and you will meet a wide variety of professionals who will be happy to let you pick their brains. This is the time to ask them about their field, their position, how they got started, and see what advice they have for students. Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do and you need to be good at it.
These tips may all sound like common sense, but many students don’t take advantage of these opportunities. I know it’s busy being a student, juggling class, homework, work, and a social life, but taking your education beyond the classroom is essential if you want a running start after graduation. Your chances of being hired are much greater if you already have experience, and you will also get to learn and experience new things and meet new people along the way.
I hope this post was helpful, and if you have any questions feel free to comment below.