“One of the questions we often hear from students fresh out of high school is, ‘Now that I’ve graduated, what am I qualified for?’” says Anita Dumont, Co-Op Education Program Coordinator at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT). “This is what we show them through Co-op Education.”
NVIT is British Columbia’s Indigenous public post-secondary institution, representing 60% of BC First Nations communities and serving 1,200 learners in remote and rural communities. With its mandate to teach Indigenous post-secondary learners province-wide, NVIT offers the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen education or career path.
Co-operative education programs combine classroom-based education with practical work experience. The program has existed at NVIT in some form since 1998, but lacked momentum due to limited resources to develop and market it. Dumont, who is Metis, moved into the Program Coordinator role in the fall of 2022. The program is still in a formative stage and she is a one-person department responsible for administration, curriculum development and teaching.
Dumont knows first-hand the importance of having the skills and confidence to navigate a career path effectively. After high school, she attended Thompson Rivers University and earned degrees in Sociology and Psychology. She took time off to raise her children before returning to university to earn a Master’s degree in Education.
Program Ramps Up with Co-operative Education Preparation Course
When Anita took on the Co-op Education role in October 2022, she already spent several years in other roles, including 3 years as an Instructor. She is focussed on growing the Co-op program and broadening awareness of it throughout the NVIT service area.
NVIT recently introduced the Co-operative Education Preparation (CEPrep) course , which is available to all NVIT Co-op students. It helps students develop pre-employability skills such resume writing, interview etiquette and the job search process. Following this course, the students are ready for four-month work placement. Anta delivers the course herself, and it’s offered in two formats: over 13 weeks while students pursue other studies, or one week of intense instruction.
The biggest hurdle to growing the program has been a financial one. Ensuring financial access to the Co-Operative Education Program has been challenging.
“The majority of students are sponsored by Bands, companies and other organizations that pay their tuition,” says Dumont, “but due to the early application deadlines and limited funds available from these sponsors, many students cannot cover the tuition cost for the CEPrep course, or the work terms.”
Funding Helps More Students Access Co-operative Education
The Co-op Program received a boost in 2022 with a grant from the Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC). The funding helps leverage RBC Future Launch funding to support students who want to participate in the Co-op Program by covering costs for students’ tuition, books and other expenses. The funding may also be used to create an NVIT wage subsidy for businesses that don’t qualify for federal wage subsidy grants.
ETSI-BC has supported public post-secondary institutions in the Southern Interior of BC since 2008, specifically entrepreneurship programming, work-integrated learning, and tech transfer activities. “This funding will help build capacity in Indigenous organizations, First Nations and rural communities which have difficulty recruiting and retaining workers,” says ETSI-BC CEO Laurel Douglas.
Shannon Varley took the CEPrep course and four work terms in conjunction with NVIT’s Office Administration program. She is now working full-time at Scw’exmx Tribal Council in Merritt.
“Co-operative Education has made it possible for me to achieve my goal of good, relevant employment,” Varley says. Through the work terms I gained significant confidence in myself and at my job.”