As a new co-op student with little professional work experience, it’s tempting to be lured in by the glitz and glamour of private sector. While picturing yourself as the newest Hootsuite social media maverick or tackling PR issues with Fleishman-Hillard, it can be easy to forget about non-profit and government positions. I haven’t had the opportunity to work for a private or non-profit company, but after four months in a co-op position with the federal government, I am now a firm believer in what they have to offer. After joining their ranks at Service Canada, albeit briefly, I would absolutely recommend doing one of your co-op work terms with the federal government. Here’s why:
1. Do Real Work and See the Results
My work at Service Canada ranged from creating diagrams and tables to negotiating contracts for an in-person meeting of senior management from across the region. No job can guarantee that the work will always be interesting, and the government is no exception. On rare occasions, I found myself looking for additional work to keep me busy. Although this wasn’t my favourite way to spend the day, even this has value. Knowing how to manage slower days and find new projects is a skill that will come in handy at almost any job. Of course, some work days were better than others, but for the most part, I enjoyed what I did.
The most enriching part of my work at Service Canada was getting to see my projects come to life. For example, I spent the first month and a half of my co-op working on an out of town meeting of all the region’s executives. Event planning was completely new to me and despite my limited experience, I was trusted with work that went beyond what I would’ve expected for my first co-op term. Among other things, I helped organize catering and coordinate the banquet, as well as collaborated on planning documents and communication products. The meeting went off without a hitch, and while it was sometimes stressful, I was very happy to see my hard work pay off.
2. Pick up Transferable Skills
Although in many ways I was treated like any new employee, my colleagues and supervisors also recognized that I was a student with little professional work experience. There were plenty of learning opportunities during my co-op, ranging from online and in-person courses to knowledge and skills picked up from working with a diverse group of people. During my time, I honed my Excel and Adobe skills, developed event planning skills, and learnt about project management.
One of the things that amazed me during my co-op was learning how many government employees work in acting roles or on assignment. This means that they have a permanent position elsewhere, but are temporarily filling a different role. In order to change roles quickly and smoothly, these individuals need to have transferable skills. In the federal public service, there is a strong focus on strategic thinking, problem solving, and project management – all valuable assets in any position at any organization. The skills that you’ll pick up during a government co-op are applicable elsewhere and will help in future work, government or otherwise.
3. The Future!
The government is huge. Maybe that goes without saying, but think about what that means for jobs. While writing this article, I tried to count the number of federal government departments and agencies but gave up because there were simply too many. What I’m trying to get at here is that the government is ripe with job opportunities – if you’re in the right position. Getting a job in the federal public service is by no means easy; it’s a long process with plenty of competition and only a small percentage of the jobs are advertised externally. Co-op is the perfect answer to that!
Getting a position in a government department is infinitely easier when you’re an insider. External hiring for government positions can take over a year and often leads to lower-level roles; however, as a former co-op student, you can be “bridged” into a term or indeterminate position. For up to two years after your federal government work term, your manager can bring you back without advertising the position to anyone else! Once you’re in a federal government position, you have access to all sorts of job opportunities that are only posted internally. Of course there are certain requirements for bridging, but being a former co-op student gives you a huge advantage if you’re looking to join a government department.
My experience at Service Canada was not sunshine and roses every single day, but overall I was incredibly happy with my time there. I got to work on the branch’s annual senior management meeting and witnessed the positive outcomes of the event. I worked with a diverse and talented group of people who were happy to share their knowledge with me. Finally, I learnt more about myself and what I value and am looking for in a job. After four fantastic months at Service Canada, I can confidently say that if you choose to do a co-op term with the federal government, you’ll leave satisfied knowing that it was a worthwhile experience and feeling prepared for your future!