Pandemic shifts co-ops online despite students’ preference for in-person work

Remote work experience doesn't have the same networking or socializing opportunities

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By Aishwarya Singh

This story has been updated to include comments from Lara Aknin and Doaa Thabet

Online co-ops have become more common for Langara College students since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students think the in-person experience is more beneficial.

Students interviewed said in-person co-op work placements provide a better learning work environment, social engagement and more networking opportunities.

In-person work can be a more comprehensive learning experience

Sreya Ambrose, who previously studied business administration at Langara College, experienced her co-op in hybrid mode. She said working in-person was a better learning environment, giving students a better understanding of how an entire organization operates — not just their role. 

Ambrose also said she had more networking opportunities in-person than online.

“I met a lot of people from different backgrounds, with different experiences there in the company. I met people from other departments,” Ambrose said. “So, yeah it was a really good platform for me.” 

Some Langara programs that offer co-ops, allowing students to alternate study semesters with paid work terms locally, nationally, and internationally, include business management, computer science and bioinformatics. 

Co-ops often build a valuable network of contacts and professional references in the prospective field.

Doaa Thabet, a business administration student, who is working as Langara’s advancement assistant for her co-op term, said she started online because of COVID symptoms but transitioned to in-person after getting the job.

“It was very different to adapt [from] home,” Thabet said. “It’s a big part of your experience, the people you work with, they really did everything … to make me adapt faster and just teach me everything.”

Co-op hours decreased to reduce stress

Sue Yang, the chair of Langara’s co-op and career development centre, said co-op opportunities in Vancouver have decreased during the pandemic making it more challenging for students to find work placements.

“I really applaud the students who went through the co-op program in the last couple years during the worldwide pandemic,” Yang said.

Since the pandemic, Langara’s co-op office decreased the amount of co-op work hours required to 320 hours.

The department was worried it would be tough to find full-time, 420-hour co-op placements during the pandemic.

“That was to alleviate students feeling stressed, not being able to find full-time work,” Yang said.

Lack of socialization affects mental health

Lara Aknin, a social psychologist and an associate professor at SFU, noticed deteriorating mental health conditions amongst students during the course of the pandemic. 

Aknin said since a lot of workplaces closed during the early stages of the pandemic and workers were laid off, people working part-time jobs in the service industry felt vulnerable and went through mental health issues because of lower job security and pressure. 

“In [the] younger years of life socializing is a really big deal,” Aknin said. “You’re out exploring the world, you’re meeting a lot of new people and there’s typically a sense of adventure forming lots of different relationships and friendships.”

Jose Tellez, a former data and analytics Langara student who did an online co-op, enjoyed the work, but he said he noticed a lack of social engagement while working remotely.

“It’s more fun when you are in person, you get to make more friends, and so you’ll be more engaged.” 

Watch this video to hear Elise Le Brun, manager at Langara College student engagement, talk about student co-op experience.

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