On-the-job learning advances classroom education

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Coffee runs, photocopying and late nights have long been the stereotypical tasks of a student’s first professional work experience.

And while some students may wonder if putting on the work uniform while still in school is really worth it, work experience co-ordinator Jane Hawkins says she sees no cons to work placements while studying.

Hawkins, whose job consists of co-ordinating work terms for the policy studies degree students at Mount Royal University, says, “I see them as positive in all aspects.”

From resume building to the practical application of classroom learning, work placements can give students that leg up and enhance their learning.

Nursing student Erin Boyd says her mandatory practicums brought the traditional classroom lectures and the job requirements together. Boyd, who is completing her final year at the University of Calgary, has been applying her textbook learning since the second year of her degree. She says the experience she gains in the various areas of healthcare add to what she has already learned and gives her the hands-on experience vital to her career.

This applied learning and use of skills is one of the major benefits Hawkins says she has seen with students she has worked with. She says education brought back from the job enhances future school learning. She says students go further, knowing how to apply what they’ve learned in practice. DSC0591 resizeWork experience coordinator Jane Hawkins says students can benefit from work placements in various ways, including resume building and deepening their learning.

Photo by Devon Jolie

The Canadian Association for Co-operative Education echoes Hawkins and Boyd, saying work terms combined with post-secondary learning gives “students an opportunity to test skills learned in the classroom, and to expand their knowledge through related work experience.”

Boyd says she also sees benefit in work experience as it can help students get a feel for their chosen career before they graduate. Work experience can solidify a student’s profession choice or reveal that there are better-suited jobs out there.

“You learn what you don’t like very quickly,” she says.

But whether students stick with their studies or change mid-degree, going through the job search gives future graduates skills they need to land their first professional job.

Hawkins says the resources available to students while looking for work terms helps soften the job search upon graduation. Students clean up their resumes, go through interviews and learn what employers look for in the ideal candidate before they’re saddled with student debt to pay off.

Boyd says that her nearly two years of work experience has boosted her resume and will set her apart upon graduation.

Hawkins says that students completing work placements have an advantage when its comes to landing jobs, an Accountemps Survey suggested 78 per cent of CFOs surveyed would prefer to hire students who gained relevant work experience while in post-secondary.


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