CHIP-ing in to help students

With help from the Royal Bank of Canada, UAlberta Business students gained valuable work experience amidst a global pandemic.

News Staff - 18 August 2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in mid-March, the Career Services team at the Alberta School of Business was poised to place a record number of students in summer co-op positions. As cases increased and the economy came to a stand-still, many companies pulled their job postings and cancelled their summer co-op programs for the year. Roughly 20% of School of Business students who had secured summer co-op placements had their offers cancelled or rescinded. The Careers and Work Integrated Learning team, led by Director Dale McNeely and Employment Engagement Coordinator James LaFleur, were left scrambling for solutions.

The Government of Canada’s Summer Work Placement Program (SWPP) was initially seen as the answer. SWPP offers wage subsidies to employers who hire eligible students on a temporary basis, much like a co-op or a typical summer job. Unfortunately, due to the volume of applications, SWPP funding quickly evaporated.

McNeely and LaFleur pivoted to a made-in-UAlberta solution. Through a generous donation from RBC's Future Launch program—designed to increase students' access to work-related programs, tools, and resources—the Careers and Work Integrated Learning offices created the Co-op Hire Incentive Program or CHIP-In. CHIP-In offered a $2,500 grant to employers hiring an Alberta Business co-op student, and the results were greater than either McNeely and LaFleur expected.

“We were blown away by the response from industry,” says McNeely. “With so much going on in the world, to have RBC and our employer partners come through for our students, providing them a chance to earn some money while gaining some much-needed work experience...we are extremely grateful.”

Beginning in May, the CHIP-In program placed 21 students with 18 different companies, with the donation from RBC Future Launch totalling $52,500. Some students worked from home, some students went into the workplace, and some did bid both. They worked a total of 8,920 hours, an average of 425 hours per placement, well above the Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada) requirement of 280 hours per placement. The Careers and Work Integrated Learning office also formed relationships with ten new employer partners that it previously had no contact with, making the CHIP-In program a resounding success.

SWPP funding has resumed for companies looking for co-op students, and so the CHIP-In program has been shut down (some students will be working all the way to December). Asked if the program could continue at a later date, McNeely just laughs.

“CHIP-In was created in response to a global economic shutdown, and I certainly hope we don’t find ourselves in that sort of situation again. It’s our job to help students find jobs, though, so whatever situation is thrown at us, I’m confident that our team will rise to the challenge.”