Co-op: A Guide to Canada’s Unique Work-Study Program

Co-op, short for cooperative education, is a unique work-study program offered in Canada that allows students to gain valuable real-world experience in their chosen field. This program has been a staple in Canadian post-secondary education for many years and continues to be a popular option for students looking to enhance their education and career prospects.

In this article, we will explore what co-op is, whether it is paid or unpaid, the advantages and disadvantages of co-op, the differences between co-op and internships, when to apply for co-op, and how to apply for co-op.

What is Co-op?

Co-op is a work-study program that integrates a student’s academic studies with relevant work experience in their chosen field. Co-op programs are usually offered in partnership with local employers and provide students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their field of study. This work experience is typically credited towards a student’s degree or diploma and helps them to gain a competitive edge in the job market.

Is Co-op Paid or Unpaid?

Co-op programs can be either paid or unpaid, depending on the program and the employer. The best way to find out the pay for a specific co-op opportunity is to directly contact the employer or the co-op coordinator at the student’s educational institution.

Paid co-op programs are more common and provide students with a salary or wage during their work term. Unpaid co-op programs, on the other hand, offer students the opportunity to gain work experience without compensation. In these cases, students may be able to receive academic credit for their work term.

The amount paid to co-op students in Canada can vary greatly depending on several factors such as the field of study, location, and the company offering the co-op position. On average, co-op students can expect to earn anywhere between CA$15 to CA$30 per hour. Some co-op programs also offer a salary based on a full-time equivalent, which can range from CA$30,000 to CA$45,000 per year.

Co-op students may also receive benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, and retirement benefits.

These are just rough estimates, and actual salaries can vary greatly. It’s important to research the specific co-op program and company you’re interested in to get a better understanding of the compensation offered.

What fields or industries offer co-op in Canada?

In Canada, co-op opportunities can be found in a variety of fields and industries, including but not limited to:

  • Engineering: Some of the companies offering co-op programs for engineers in Canada are Bombardier, GE, and Siemens.
  • Technology: Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Google offer co-op programs for students and recent graduates in the tech field.
  • Business and finance: Companies such as Scotiabank, TD Bank, and RBC offer co-op programs for students and recent graduates pursuing careers in business and finance.
  • Environmental studies: Environmental co-op opportunities can be found with companies such as SNC-Lavalin, Hatch, and Stantec.
  • Healthcare: Healthcare co-op opportunities are available with companies such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sanofi.
  • Marketing and Communications: Co-op opportunities in marketing and communications can be found with companies such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson.

To find specific co-op opportunities, students and recent graduates can search on job boards such as Indeed, LinkedIn, GlassDoor, and Monster, as well as university career center websites.

Advantages of Co-op?

  • Real-world experience: Co-op provides students with hands-on experience in their chosen field, which is invaluable in preparing them for their future careers.
  • Career networking: Co-op programs allow students to make professional connections and build relationships with industry professionals.
  • Increased job opportunities: Many co-op students are offered full-time positions with their co-op employers after graduation.
  • Earning potential: While co-op programs are not always paid, many provide students with a stipend or salary, which can help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses.
  • Improved resume: Co-op programs can help students develop skills, gain experience, and build a strong resume that will make them more competitive in the job market.
  • Academic credit: Many co-op programs are integrated into a student’s academic curriculum, allowing them to earn credit towards their degree while gaining practical experience.
  • Increased confidence: Co-op programs provide students with the opportunity to work on real-world projects, which can increase their confidence and skillset.

Disadvantages of Co-op?

  • Competition: Co-op programs are highly competitive, and many students may not be able to secure a placement.
  • Timing: Co-op programs typically run on a specific schedule, which can be challenging for students who have other commitments or obligations.
  • Limited opportunities: Some co-op programs only offer a limited number of positions, and students may not be able to secure a placement in their desired field.
  • Cost: Some co-op programs may charge fees or require students to pay for their own expenses, such as travel and housing.
  • Lack of control: Co-op students may not have a say in where they are placed or the projects they work on, which can be limiting for some students.
  • Work-life balance: Co-op students may find it difficult to balance their work and academic responsibilities, which can lead to stress and burnout.

Differences between Co-op and Internships

Co-op programs are typically offered in partnership with post-secondary institutions and are structured to integrate a student’s academic studies with their work experience. Internships, on the other hand, are usually offered directly by employers and do not typically include academic credit. Additionally, co-op programs may be paid or unpaid, while internships are often paid.

While co-op and internships both offer students the opportunity to gain work experience in their field of study, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Duration: Co-op programs are usually longer than internships, with an average duration of 4 to 8 months, while internships tend to be shorter, usually lasting between 2 to 3 months.
  • Work Experience: Co-op programs are designed to provide students with hands-on, real-world work experience in their chosen field, while internships tend to focus more on training and skill-building.
  • Remuneration: Co-op students are typically paid for their work, while internships may be paid or unpaid, depending on the company.
  • Course Credit: Some co-op programs may provide course credit for the work experience, while internships do not typically provide course credit.
  • Career Development: Co-op programs are seen as an important step in the career development of students, providing them with a solid foundation of work experience that can be leveraged in the future, while internships are viewed more as a way for students to gain exposure to a specific industry or company.
  • Availability: Co-op programs are offered by many universities and colleges, and may be specific to certain fields of study, while internships may be more widely available and may not be limited to a specific field of study.

When to Apply for Co-op?

Students should apply for co-op opportunities as early as possible, ideally 1-2 semesters prior to the desired co-op term. This will give them enough time to research different co-op programs, gather all necessary materials, and prepare for interviews.

Many co-op programs have early application deadlines and may fill up quickly, so it’s important for students to start their search early. Additionally, some co-op programs also have competitive selection processes, so the earlier students apply, the better their chances of being selected.

It is important to research co-op programs and employers in advance to ensure that you are aware of the application requirements and deadlines.

How to Apply for Co-op?

The application process for co-op programs will vary depending on the program and the employer. However, applying for a co-op program in Canada typically involves the following steps:

  • Research: Start by researching different co-op programs in your field of study and find the companies that offer such programs.
  • Create a strong resume and cover letter: Your resume and cover letter should showcase your skills, experiences, and achievements relevant to the co-op field you’re applying for.
  • Apply directly: Submit your application directly to the company’s career website, job boards, or co-op program providers.
  • Prepare for an interview: If your application is shortlisted, you may be asked to attend an interview with the company. Prepare well and showcase your skills and passion for the field.
  • Offer letter: If selected, you will receive an offer letter which will detail the terms and conditions of the co-op program.
  • Complete required paperwork: You may need to complete some paperwork, such as tax forms and background checks, before starting your co-op program.
  • Start the program: Once everything is in place, you can start your co-op program and gain hands-on experience in your chosen field.

What to expect during Co-op?

During a co-op, students can expect to gain valuable hands-on experience in their field of study, develop their skills and knowledge, and build professional networks. Co-op programs typically offer a combination of on-the-job training and structured learning opportunities, with a focus on integrating academic theories with real-world applications.

Students can expect to work alongside experienced professionals and learn from industry leaders, as well as develop important soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. They will also have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and gain practical experience in a real-world setting, which can help prepare them for future careers.

It’s also important for students to remember that co-op programs are still work experiences, so they should be prepared to take their responsibilities seriously. This includes arriving on time, dressing professionally, and demonstrating a positive attitude and strong work ethic.


Co-op programs offer a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world experience and develop skills that will help them succeed in their future careers. With a range of industries and companies offering co-op opportunities, there is something for everyone.

It’s important for students to start their search early, prepare a strong application, and be proactive in seeking out these opportunities. By participating in a co-op program, students can gain valuable experience, make industry connections, and take a big step towards their future success.

So, if you’re a student looking for a way to boost your resume and gain valuable experience, a co-op program may be the perfect opportunity for you!

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