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Co-operative Education

John standing in front of parliament building
Tell us a bit about your background. What program are you in?

I am John Owusu. I work as an Economic Policy Analyst in the Economic Strategy branch of the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation which is within the broader sector of the BC Public Service. This co-op will culminate my Master of Arts degree in Economics. Before pursuing this graduate degree, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Mathematics and worked as a Financial Accountant in Ghana for a year.

What made you realize that your co-op position was a great fit for you?

With an open mindset, I applied for multiple co-op positions that I felt very qualified for, without thinking much about how the position was a great fit for me. It was when I was contacted by my employers for a possible interview that I checked for the fit.

What stood out to me was how very related the job description was, to my program. The job accountabilities outlined then included analysing economic issues with program objectives, identifying risks and assessing the implications of emerging policies and initiatives. Climate change and the economic strategy is a huge chunk of the work we do. I saw many linkages between the scope of the policy work and the final research paper I was writing. I decided immediately to get this experience.

Also, the thought of relocating and not having to move back to Burnaby to take any more courses got me so excited. I had fulfilled all the course requirements to graduate but wanted some Canadian work experience before formally entering the job market. I had heard Victoria is a beautiful city and didn’t hesitate to jump onto this opportunity to live and work here. I have done so much on Vancouver Island – from whale watching to seeing grizzly bear to visiting the Malahat sky walk, and to even travel the Island on the sea planes and it wasn’t even summer!

What are your day to day tasks like at your co-op position?

Oh my! My tasks keep on evolving so often that I do not know where to begin. I have also been looped into different assignments that are not part of my core duties.

I used to support a unit within my branch to prepare policy discussion questions, notes and to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for all the policy documents going to the weekly committee meetings of the Ministers. We highlight the impacts of such policies on business, government revenue and the economy, ask the relevant questions and more broadly, make sure the policy document is clear and concise with no red flags.

You can think of us as that annoying thesis supervisor who criticizes your work and addresses the weakness of your arguments or opinions before you get a go-ahead for a final defence. But I have moved to a more dynamic unit of the branch where different tasks come from above every week.

One task that is constant though is the work I do on the economic indicators. The BC government launched a vision for the long-term future of BC, the StrongerBC Economic plan. A suite of indicators was agreed upon to measure and track the province’s economic progress. I regularly track data on these indicators from multiple sources and update them, make visualizations that we can use for our ppt, identify trends and make jurisdictional comparisons.

What was the onboarding process like for you as a co-op student?

The process was pretty quick and smooth. After accepting the job offer, my documents were collected for the HR processes. After verification, I was sent a confirmation letter that indicated my first day at work.

On the first day, my supervisor took me on tour to introduce me to other colleagues. I received my laptop with two extra monitor screens, set up my credentials and was adding to the mailing lists and team groups in the first week

My team is based in both Vancouver and Victoria. I had a one-on-one meeting with everyone on the team before formally introducing myself on my first branch meeting.

Orientation documents were prepared for me, and it contained almost everything I needed as a new employee. I was assigned my first project the very next week.

A lot of students start the term feeling nervous, but by the end of it, they find that they had a great experience. What is a word of advice you have for students feeling nervous about entering their first term?

Oh, I remember how tensed and nervous I was in my first week. I overcame it mainly through conversations, social engagements and motivational podcasts. I am the one to start a conversation by asking questions, looking for a time in your calendar to set up a one-on-one meeting or even a simple smile or compliment.

I would say that it is completely normal to feel nervous in your first week or month. There is no denying the fact that a lot is at stake. Your employer’s expectations are really high, and you want to make a very good first impression. But don’t be too hard on yourself or overthink things. Just chat! Meet people, touch base with your colleagues, go for office socials, ask many questions and learn. This will diffuse your tension and anxiety. A few weeks down the road and you will be walking into your office like a boss.

How did your employer help you feel more comfortable in the workplace?

Well for starters, the Public Service is highly diverse and inclusive. This may sound cliché but in reality, there are many organizations that lack such representation. The co-op office at BCPS (EPRO) had multiple webinars to orient and guide co-op students in their journey. From connecting me with career coaches like Melissa Meyer to training me on the core competencies of the job to connecting me with my cohort members, I felt more comfortable and primed to achieve my learning goals.

The flexible working arrangements are so convenient. I can work two days from the house every week. I can take a day off every other two weeks by working only 45 minutes overtime the days prior. The dress code is also business casual, quite convenient for people like me who do not subscribe to a daily suit and tie life unless for august meetings. All this makes the work even more enjoyable.

My colleagues and team members are a big part of my comfortability and growth. They are super helpful, talented and professional. My supervisors especially! I had a weekly check-in with them where I talked about my career developments, plans, challenges and even current work. We also had many office socials, trivia games and hangouts in the branch.

Personally, I think I felt very comfortable because my bosses are the best. Once you are introduced as a co-op student, they give you room to make mistakes and even ask “counterintuitive” questions. As you continue to build and grow, you can then be entrusted to go solo on important projects.

Co-operative Education
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Apr 19, 2023

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