For most students, an eight-month work term would be plenty of exposure to one organization, but my time as an Employment Standards Officer (ESO) was such a phenomenal learning experience that I seized the opportunity to extend my co-op term to a full year.
In what felt like a short time at the Employment Standards Branch of the now titled Ministry of Labour, I underwent significant personal and professional development. This is largely due to the active role that my supervisor played in mentoring me which not only improved my ability to accomplish the assigned tasks but also helped cultivate skills suited towards my personal career goals. I could devote an entire article to the types of duties performed by an ESO including conducting investigations, facilitating mediations, and participating in inspections, but I’m instead going to focus on the aspects of the experience that are not found in the job description: the people, the public service sector, and its future.
Criminology student, Tylor Mason, enjoyed his co-op with British Columbia's Employment Standards Branch so much that a four-month placement quickly turned into one year. Find out why, here.
An essential part of any work environment are the people who operate within it. The people that I had the pleasure of working with were all exemplary public servants, high caliber professionals, and down-to-earth individuals. It was these personalities that fostered a positive environment that was truly enjoyable to work in.
I must admit that prior to beginning my work term, I believed most government employees to be old, introverted, and confined to their cubicles – I was very wrong. Although all my colleagues had at least a decade of experience on me, they shattered all my expectations about public service. In addition to the meaningful day-to-day work I was required to do, the various perspectives presented at the lunch table challenged my understanding and opinion on a range of topics. It may seem silly, but it was these lunchroom conversations that shaped the dynamic of the workplace and were a large part of what I attribute to the well-rounded learning experience that I received.
My colleagues and I discussed everything under the sun, ranging from contemporary events to more serious questions like those of raising a family and planning for retirement.
The knowledge and wisdom divulged by my colleagues was never preachy and I absorbed as much as I could while feeling comfortable enough to express my own opinions as well. These discussions were particularly significant because as employees of the Employment Standards Branch, it was important for us to analyze issues from multiple perspectives and adapt our positions based on the argument and evidence presented. This respectful discourse is what I consider to be a crucial aspect of a professional work environment and one of the many reasons why I truly felt like a valued colleague instead of “just another co-op student”.
The Public Service
Working within the British Columbia Public Service allowed me to discover the benefits of working in a government job and made the potential pursuit of a career in the public sector much more enticing. I was also lucky enough to work within the BC Public Service during the recent provincial election, amidst all the political excitement.
The change in government, while drastically altering the title on my business cards from Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour to the standalone Ministry of Labour, also entails a revaluation of the Ministry’s mandate and I look forward to seeing how the new objectives affect the day-to-day operations of the Employment Standards Branch.
More important than experiencing a transition of government, however, was the fact that I also learned about the array of career opportunities available in the public service sector. As a Criminology student, my possible career choices have always seemed pre-determined and limited—either join the police force or get a good enough GPA to make it into law school. However, my co-op term exposed me to career opportunities that I had never even heard about, let alone considered. Just a few examples of potential workplaces include the Conservation Officer Service, Gaming Policy & Enforcement Branch, Sheriff Services, and Cybersecurity Intelligence & Investigations.
These plausible career opportunities are even more compelling due to the mobility and lateral progression available to employees within the BC Public Service. Internal job postings, temporary assignments, and secondments enable employees to develop diverse skills and knowledge which means they can redefine their careers whenever they wish to rather than remaining restricted to working towards a promotion within the same ministry.
Although the major obstacle currently affecting the BC Public Service is the issue of an aging workforce, active steps are being taken to counteract this problem. One of the many methods proposed to accomplish this involves expanding and enhancing opportunities for co-op students and finding ways to attract and retain young professionals. I firmly believe this is vital to the recruitment and retention of valuable employees.
The BC Public Service will succeed in this endeavor if it continually strives to create realistic bridging opportunities, provides incentives for co-op students to apply for permanent positions in the BC Public Service (e.g. allowing co-op terms to contribute to the years of service designation), and fosters collaborative work environments between ministries and co-op positions.
I believe that my co-op experience as an ESO has undoubtedly enhanced both my university experience and my career potential. Not only did I find the work rewarding, I was also constantly encouraged to pursue both my personal and professional aspirations. My supervisor was an invaluable mentor whose guidance directly contributed to my success in securing a second co-op opportunity in another organization.
Overall, I concluded my co-op experience equipped with newly-acquired skills and confidence needed to traverse the next steps of my life, which I believe is the ultimate advantage of doing a co-op work term.
Beyond the Blog
For more opportunities like Tylor's, visit the FASS co-op page!