UVic Torch -- Spring 2004
Spring 2004,
Volume 26, Number 1

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Career Quest - Photo by Diana Nethercott  Continued
Career prep: UVic Career Services manager Jennifer Margison, BA ’77, and Business Co-op alumnus Stuart Montgomery, ’03, who turned a work placement into a full-time job.
Photography by DIANA NETHERCOTT 

Perhaps the best way to get the jump on a job is through UVic Co-Operative Education. It’s the largest such program in Western Canada with roughly 2,800 students from more than 40 academic areas annually completing work term placements. Participants get paid work experience and make contacts that often lead to steady employment. A study of year 2000 bachelor grads found co-op graduates are more likely to be in high-quality employment than the UVic average, with 17 per cent higher salaries than the median.

Co-op Director Elizabeth Grove-White notices a contrast with the job environment of the mid-’70s, when the program was founded. “Back then, positions were posted on the wall. Students came in, saw the posting, wrote a resume and letter and sent them off. Today, that kind of hiring only accounts for 10 to 20 per cent of available jobs.”

For the past few years, companies have begun posting their co-op jobs on their Web sites, meaning students have to surf the net themselves, look for postings, and often contact the company without the involvement of the co-op program.

“I think most people, and not only students, feel awkward about this shift in the job search process, and about selling themselves more aggressively,” says Grove-White. “But more and more we see employers who want people to show initiative, so we’re tailoring the program to teach students how to be more resourceful.”

There is another way co-op is changing. Last year it introduced the Service-Learning Internship Program (SLIP), providing placements mentored by a faculty member and rooted in a regional community organization. “We want to engage students in the civil life of their region, to give them a sense of contributing to community,” says Grove-White.

Stuart Montgomery, BComm ’03 turned a work term placement with the Fairfield Community Association in 2001 into a job as the association’s community recreation co-ordinator. Although it wasn’t the career path he had envisioned, it’s proven to be a great fit. “I’ve had so much exposure to the city, meeting peers in my field, becoming familiar with the way municipalities work that I actually feel like I’m a part of Victoria, not just someone who works here. Now I’m working towards applying the skills I’ve learned to become involved in the 2010 Olympics.”

Montgomery’s attitude reflects a common trend among graduates his age. He plans on working hard, learning and contributing as much as he can, and then taking his experience and applying it to something different. “There’s room for movement,” he says. “Three to five years in a position gives you time to learn a profession, add what you can to it, then move on to something new.”

The people at UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives saw a need for something new when they developed the CAPI Internship Program in 2003. The program features five placements with non-governmental organizations in the Asia-Pacific region and is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. “It’s an opportunity for young Canadians to gain hands-on experience in an international job market,” says Heidi Tyedmers, CAPI’s program officer. “It can also be a way for someone who graduated a few years ago to centre themselves and re-evaluate their goals.” A benefit of the CAPI program is that life experience plays as big a role as academic knowledge during the application process. “We look for flexibility, initiative and interpersonal skills. The internships are a chance to use these intangible life skills and be given responsibility you might not get at an entry-level job. Interns gain a real level of confidence as they enter the workforce, moving from ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ to ‘I know that I can.’”

One of last year’s interns—Shane Barter, BA ’03, in history and political science—worked with ForumAsia, a human rights group in Thailand. For eight months he traveled to conferences in eight different countries and was given the responsibility of writing a book on the Aceh conflict in Indonesia. His experiences have solidified an interest in pursuing a master’s thesis on the effects of tourism on developing countries.

Making a decision about grad studies is one of the ways Jennifer Margison, UVic’s Career Services manager, and her staff can help. “A graduate degree can be a way to open new doors or progress in a professional field. But we stress the importance of making an informed decision about graduate school and understanding where it fits in with an individual’s overall career planning.”

Career Services has always offered one-on-one advising and workshops for recent graduates or students in any stage of their academic career. But last year, recognizing the struggles new graduates faced trying to break into the career market, they developed ACT (the Applied Career Transitions program).

“There’s nothing more isolating than looking for work,” says Margison, “and you feel like no one is struggling as much as you are. We look at careers as a building process. A career is not something that just happens at graduation.”

The ACT program, funded by the Counselling Foundation of Canada and a grant from the UVic Alumni Association, provides the classroom and experiential learning that job-seeking graduates need. A key career management skill taught by ACT is how to develop a network of relationships through which career opportunities can be explored and created. A two to four month internship, researched and secured by participants, is another option within the program.

Margison sees a shift in the types of jobs some graduates are seeking. “A certain percentage still expect the job security and benefits that have traditionally been associated with a career, and we attempt to bring a bit of reality to that picture. Students have witnessed their parents’ experiences with downsizing and re-organization in the workplace. Many realize that flexibility combined with a more entrepreneurial approach is a move they need to make.”

In the end it’s all about taking initiative and taking risks.

Glenn Smith recalls that in his 20s, many of his colleagues worked for the big condo or the nice car, and were happy to work full out to achieve it. “Today, I see students realizing that 24/7 doesn’t cut it. They don’t care if they’re being paid $300,000 a year. They have a life and they want to focus on the simpler things. They don’t need the fancy house. They can be warm, safe, secure and comfortable without running themselves into the ground.”

That’s how it is for UVic Biology graduate Kate Moss. After finishing her degree last June, she was more than willing to put off job security and benefits to follow her passion. She put down her own money to make it happen. When she learned that a family acquaintance owned a small reserve in Costa Rica, Moss volunteered to fly herself there, buy her own provisions, and start a rainforest rehabilitation project, entirely on her own.

“For me, I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” says Moss, “and my goal was to help restore areas that have experienced environmental damage. There was never a price tag attached, it was all about doing what I love.”

Moss flew to Costa Rica last October and returned at the end of February. She enjoyed the lifestyle so much that she seeking future employment in the same region, paid or not.

“Having a job you adore might mean stepping outside the box, but it’s worth it.”

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