My first co-op work term was in the Summer of 2015. It was a self-directed work termperforming the duties of a Medical Office Assistant in a busy family doctor’s office. I truly enjoyed the position and the workplace, and following two semesters of classes back at SFU Burnaby, I was fortunate enough to obtain a position at the same workplace for the Summer of 2016. Upon securing this position, my Co-op Coordinator and I discussed my learning objectives including new duties and skills I was going to take away from my second work term. My supervisor was fortunately on board with enhancing my learning experiences, and collaborated to define new learning opportunities. Although from the start we had established new duties to add to my daily work routine, I have also picked up tips and knowledge on asking for new tasks, learning new skills, and taking initiative while completing any co-op work term.
1. Be Analytical
How can you effectively add new challenges? Offering to alleviate the workload of your colleagues provides you with the opportunity to learn new skills and further your co-op experience. Is one of your colleagues on holidays or you notice a build up of paper work that you could be taking care of? Is there something you have always wanted to learn at work, is it a quiet work week with your supervisor having training time (An opportunity too good to miss)? Use your knowledge of the work environment to identify opportunities that are the most practical use of everyone’s time.
2. Offer Assistance
If you see someone working on something that you know is within your capabilities and job description, don’t be afraid to ask either a colleague or your supervisor if you are able to learn that new skill/technique/technology and incorporate it into your work routine. I have had my co-op supervisor stress with me that asking questions will NEVER be viewed as bothersome, and that employers appreciate that you are taking the time to put thought into your work and are conscientious enough to seek confirmation. An example of this from my position would be asking a colleague to confirm that I have completed the billing of an office visit correctly if I was unsure before sending it off to MSP. Another could be seeing a colleague perform a task that you think could help you with future goals/interests of yours, and asking your supervisor if they could set aside ten minutes of their day to walk you through it. Both asking to take on new tasks and asking questions are positives for both enhancing your own experience and the employer’s confidence in your abilities, leading to expanded responsibilities.
3. Step up to New Opportunities
One morning this work term I was working in a different wing of the office. After putting a patient in the examination room for their appointment, the doctor called me down the hall. She asked me to set the patient up on an electronic blood pressure machine, called the BP-TRU machine. I instantly became nervous, as I told her I had never used the machine before and wasn’t sure how to properly align the cuff on the patient. She smiled and said “Oh I’ll show you! Come with me!” and took time out of her busy morning to walk me through the set up with the patient. Perhaps I just lucked out at this workplace filled with helpful, positive colleagues, but I find that your coworkers genuinely do like to enhance your experience, help teach you new skills, and ensure you have a positive co-op experience. I find that individuals in the workplace really do think highly of students and can appreciate that we are only there for four - twelve months and we will undeniably not have the same experience and confidence that they have after countless years. Your colleagues WANT to help you and can support you through stressful mornings, sticky situations, and long to-do lists.
4. Have a Sense of Gratitude and Willingness
When employers hire co-op students it brings them many benefits. However, it is also a significant time commitment with hiring, training and supervision. They are truly taking a chance on you to deal with important tasks and responsibilities. Yes we are hired employees, similar to our fulltime, permanent colleagues, but we are also extremely lucky to have organizations take on students and give us chances to obtain real-life, relevant, on-the-job experience. I think it is important to remember this when in your work term. If there is a task to be done that isn’t your favourite, or if someone that helped you last week needs help this week with something, do remember that you are fortunate to be there and it is important to make sure that we are willing to work hard in whatever capacity they need us for.
5. Know Yourself and Your Capabilities
Although fairly self-explanatory, when you are aiming to take on more/trickier duties at work, make sure you are only taking on as much as you can put 110% into.
“Only undertake what you can do in an excellent fashion. There are no prizes for average performance”
– Brian Tracy
If you need to say no to an extra project to maintain your quality of work on your current responsibilities, please do. Employers value students who understand and achieve their priorities. Be careful not to take on more than you are ready for, and to also make sure you keep yourself in good mental shape to go to work every day, love what you do, learn new skills, and work hard at your job.
Beyond the Blog
To learn more about SFU's Co-op program, visit their page!