STEM students who participate in co-op programs are more likely to find a permanent job that relates to their field, according to a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute.

While students from all disciplines appear to benefit from co-op training, STEM students seem to profit more. Analysis of data from Canada’s National Graduate Survey, government-collected statistical information on Canadian post-secondary students collected about three years after graduation, revealed more than half of co-op graduates (56.2 per cent) landed a first job closely related to their degree, compared with 40.8 per cent of non-co-op graduates. Of those students, 63.6 per cent were offered a permanent position, compared to 52.6 per cent of non-co-ops. 

But the advantages for non-STEM majors are short-lived, writes report author Rosalie Wyonch.

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“Three years after graduation, the advantage of co-op graduates almost entirely disappears outside university math, computer science, engineering, and health programs,” Wyonch says.

“The link between higher income and co-op participation levels is relatively strong at both the university and college levels. Interestingly, 30 per cent of business and social science college graduates participated in a co-op program, but they did not receive significantly higher average incomes than non-participating peers.”

The paper suggests the difference in wages and co-op participation might be linked to the options made available in certain areas of study. 

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While co-op grads earn more — starting at about $47,900 annually, compared to $45,000 among non-co-ops — Wyonch concedes this may be due to personal choices and societal issues, rather than co-op participation.

“Co-op programs are overrepresented in STEM subjects, with relatively few for humanities and arts,” reads the paper.

“The underrepresentation of women in co-op programs might be an artifact of their underrepresentation in some STEM fields. Further, differences in wages after graduation might relate to individual choices regarding career path or specialty/sub-domain within fields of study.”

Gender and race gap

Visible minorities and women of all races appear to benefit from co-op training but in different ways.

“Female co-op program participants that graduated from university received wages similar to male peers that did not participate,” reads the report.

“Immigrants, women and visible minority individuals that participated in co-op were more likely to be employed full time than non-participants with similar characteristics. Women, unfortunately, tend to receive lower benefits than men from participating in co-op programs in terms of income, getting a first job related to their field of study, or securing a permanent position.”

A separate study suggests professional mentoring can help students better understand their chosen discipline. COURTESY: Pixabay.

The report argues co-op programs remain an important tool for women and minorities, as they may help reduce wage and employment gaps that are “traditionally associated with bias.”

See it, be it

The findings are similar to the results of a separate paper linking professional mentorship programs with an enhanced understanding and passion for their work.

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“By taking the students outside the classroom, they saw the relevance and meaningfulness of what they were learning. That motivated them beyond case studies,” lead author Consuelo Waight said.

“… Companies looking to better unlock the potential of attracting, developing and retaining this important employee base should work to foster an environment that embraces mentorship as a part of the corporate culture, further illustrating their commitment to developing their best talent.”