Opportunities Abound in
In the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), secondary students have the opportunity to gain tangible knowledge and experience in their chosen field through a range of co-operative education placements. Available both during the school year and over the summer break, these innovative experiential learning opportunities offer students the chance to work in a range of different fields, like child care, law, computer programming and the trades.
These placements are thanks to the many diverse partnerships between the WRDSB and local businesses and employers. They use these placements as a way to build relationships with potential future employees to support the ongoing strength of their industry, and success of their businesses.
Learn more about what WRDSB students experience and the skills they gain during their time in co-operative education below.
Woodworking Co-Op Offers the Tangible Benefits of Experiential Learning
“There's nothing like sitting on the chair you’ve built.”
Casey Herfuth likes a good challenge and loves working with hands. So, when the Grade 11 student at Preston High School (PHS) was offered a co-op placement at Steel and Timber Designs in Cambridge, he jumped at the opportunity.
He earned high school credits, while gaining practical skills and experience. When we spoke to him, Casey was building a maple table-top straight from freshly-harvested slabs of timber.
Sean White, the owner of Steel and Timber Designs, is a nuclear engineer by training but has long had a passion for woodworking. The joy and satisfaction he gets from the trade is something he wants to instill in others. He knows that to do so, he and other craftsmen will need to invest in the future generation.
“We’re having a hard time finding qualified woodworkers. It is a bit specialized, but there’s such a demand for this type of work that we’re willing to train people who, like Casey, know the basics of the craft,” said Sean. “That’s why I wanted to give him the chance to do things beyond what he would likely be able to do in shop class.”
Finding Confidence in Summer Co-Op
“It’s something I’ll be able to take with me whatever I end up doing.”
Co-operative Education is often associated with hands-on learning experiences that can be applied to a specific job or trade. But, co-op placements also provide students with opportunities to develop the soft skills that lead to personal growth and development, and which are in demand in today’s rapidly changing workplaces.
One of those intangibles, poise, is instantly recognizable in Jamie Zhang, a Grade 12 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI). She credits much of that to her time as an Air Cadet.
“I was always a bit of a shy kid, but being part of the cadet program has helped me come out of my shell as I became more and more confident in who I am and what I can do.”
This past summer, Jamie had a summer co-op placement in the Canadian Cadet Organization run by the Department of National Defence, where she earned the rank of flight sergeant.
Jamie’s Commanding Officer, Captain Douglas Gibbons, is the officer in charge of the Cadet Activity Program in Kitchener. Gibbons is also a child and youth worker and a National Coaches Certification Program (NCCP) coach. He is passionate about developing the potential in young people.
“One of the pillars of the Cadet Program is the advancement of citizenship and leadership,” Gibbons said. “Jamie has so much potential and it’s great to see her grow and develop her talents and abilities in those areas.”
Read more: Finding Confidence in Summer Co-Op
Renovating Houses and Building New Skills for a Future Career
“I’m learning about the business, working with all sorts of tools, getting some work experience and earning credits.”
Summertime – for most high school students, it’s time for a break from the books, for trips to the beach or hanging out with friends. But for some, summer means unique opportunities to get hands-on training as they test drive a possible career.
The WRDSB Summer Co-op Program gives students a four week placement at a local business or organisation. Besides the hands-on, practical experience of spending time at a workplace, students earn credits towards their diploma.
Josh Savory is in his last year at Huron Heights Secondary School (HHSS). In summer 2022, he worked with Kent McNaughton of Benchmark Renovations restoring a house in downtown Kitchener.
“I’ve been doing all sorts of things,” said Josh. “Everything from flooring, painting, drywall, and hanging cabinets.”
“The Board has been so helpful in working with employers to get co-op placements set up,” said McNaughton. “They provided Josh with the steel-toed safety boots needed for the job site and are helping him apply for two different $1,000 bursaries offered to co-op students who are OYAP participants.”
Co-op Placement an Investment in Students’ Futures
“I’m learning about the value of presenting yourself professionally and understanding the dynamics of an office setting. It’s stuff I think you can only learn when you’re in an actual workplace.”
Saniya Sohal has a pretty good idea about what she wants for her future, and how challenging her path will be.
“I’m hoping to get into a top-end business program at university and from there, go to law school,” the Grade 12 student from Laurel Heights Secondary School (LHSS) said in summer 2022. “Both of those are pretty competitive programs.”
Saniya knows that applications to programs like this are based on more than just grades. To gain additional experiences and strengthen her application, Saniya is enrolled in the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) Business program. The SHSM program offers students a bundle of specialized courses in business combined with experiential learning opportunities in the field.
As part of the program, Saniya completed a summer co-op placement at Davenport Realty in Kitchener. A lot of what she did would be considered marketing – looking for leads, keeping an eye on trends in the real estate market, using industry-specific tools and seeing what other realtors are doing.
Tammy Nolan is a broker at Davenport Realty and supervised Saniya’s placement.
“I think the [summer co-op] is such a great program,” she said. “Saniya is getting insight into the life of a realtor, how real estate works, financial, mortgage understanding, marketing, how businesses find customers and how to grow a database of customers. These are skills that she will be able to apply to whatever industry she ends up in.”
Co-operative Education in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB)
Co-operative Education placements give students a hands-on way to explore careers in fields as diverse as child care, law, computer programming and the trades. Students, parents and caregivers can learn about these opportunities by speaking with the Guidance Counsellor at your high school.
Pathways to Success
Visit the Pathways to Success website for information on:
If you’re someone who wants to help a student explore a career in your field, contact:
Kim Keena, Experiential and Co-operative Education Lead
Waterloo Region District School Board
519-570-0003 (extension 4443)