WEST CARLETON – West Carleton Secondary School’s (WCSS) innovative co-operative education program is looking for volunteer business mentors for the upcoming school year.

The WCSS co-operative program allows Grade 12 students the opportunity to join the workforce for a school year as part of their curriculum in a field they are interested in. The program involves an in-class component, but the majority of the program is spent out in the field.

Last December, West Carleton Online profiled three WCSS students participating in the program. This fall, WCSS Co-operative Program head Jen Stewart is recruiting new businesses to take on a student in a program that rewards the student and the business (last year West Carleton Online participated in the program cut short by the pandemic and had WCSS’ Michelle Russett join the team as a writer and photographer.

“Students who sign up for this program are looking to gain practical work experience while obtaining elective secondary school credits at the same time,” Stewart told West Carleton Online yesterday (Sept. 13).

In a typical school year, students will either take a part time co-op, where they spend half of their school day at a workplace, working alongside a mentor/industry partner or a full day, where each day of school will instead be in the workforce. 

“The workplace chosen can be anything where we have a willing partner and a mentor who is willing to take the time to teach the student new tasks and skills, be there to answer questions and guide the student until they become more self sufficient in their work,” Stewart said. “Students will gain practical skills, adapt to working predominantly with adults, have an experience to put on their resume and in some cases gain employment following the internship.  Most times employers are surprised at the capabilities of a teenager.  Yes, it does require more initial input and guidance but the positives of having a student in the workplace ultimately far outweigh any reasons for not wanting to participate in the program.”

Stewart says the program is full of students  ready to contribute their skills to any workplace.

“Teens today are multitaskers, good with technology, have fresh ideas to bring to the table,” she said. “They see tasks and problems in the workplace through unbiased eyes and will quickly lessen the work for those around them. Youth bring with them a culture of change which is needed in all industries.”

In the age of COVID-19, finding suitable work experiences has been a challenge for Stewart.

“With the world of work changing, and more and more people working from home, it has been a challenging start up,” she said. “We need to continue to give our youth opportunities whether virtual or in person if we want to set them up for success in the workforce. Students need opportunities that exist in our ever-changing world of work and if this means taking on a co-op student virtually, they are up for it.

WCSS is looking for full time and part time employers who can provide students a mentor, regularly scheduled tasks that need to be accomplished over a given time frame. Students are available from September to the end of January and then again from February to the end of June. 

“If you are uncertain if your workplace can take on a co-op student, inquire,” Stewart advises. “If you would like to know more about the program to see whether or not it would be a good fit for you, your company or your student, please reach out. If we want students to be prepared for the workforce and education to evolve, we must all contribute to the change.

You can reach Stewart at the co-op program at 613-832-2773 ext. 2137, or email jenniferl.stewart@ocdsb.ca.