Co-op programs help communities survive

May 22, 2010
Posted By Daniel Pearce, Simcoe Reformer

Here's a new way to keep young people from leaving small towns: put them in co-op placements with local employers while they're still in high school.

That way, they will see first hand there are meaningful jobs for them in their hometowns, said Sherryl Petricevic, executive director of the Ontario Business Education Partnership.

"If you want your community to survive, you have to invest. The investment is in your kids," Petricevic said following an awards ceremony at the Greens at Renton on Wednesday honouring local businesses that participate in a provincewide student placement program.

"People here can speak to youth and say 'There are opportunities here for you.' Migration is a huge problem (in many small towns)."

Dr. Alan Plater, a Simcoe veterinarian who was presented with an Employer Champion Award on Wednesday, bears that theory out.

Four of Plater's staff at Queensway Veterinary Hospital were former high school students who tried out the profession with him.

They earned high school credits by doing such things as holding animals while vets and technicians worked on them and helping get surgical packs ready.

Plater has been taking students in for eight years and has no regrets. He benefits as much as the students do, he said.

"Having kids is lots of fun. They have so much energy, they pump energy into us. Some can be comic relief."
When summer roles around and there are no students, his office "almost seems empty," said Plater. "They are a part of us."

Young people across Ontario go to work in hospitals, manufacturing, hair dressing salons, and in marketing, farms, and labs as part of the program.

One student, said Petricevic, shadowed a brain surgeon and got to watch a surgery.

More than 40,000 employers provincewide participate in the program "and we want more," Petricevic said.

Employers benefit in other ways, she said.

By explaining their jobs to young people, employees re-learn their professions, she said. "It keeps it fresh for them."

Students who do co-ops are "more employer ready" when they graduate and in the long run earn more than those who don't, she added.

"This is for all students, not just students that are struggling."

It also gives them a chance to try out a career before committing to school or an apprenticeship.

One student who wanted to be a vet came to work with Plater, found he didn't like the long hours, and instead went to school to be an electrical engineer.

Daniel Pearce 519-426-3528 ext. 132