Co-op has become a big question mark for many architecture students here at Carleton, so Blog22 tracked down seven previous co-op students and asked for their responses for 22 co-op related questions. We hope this interview with answers from seven Carleton students will help you make the best choice for your job search and work experience!
22 Co-op questions featuring: Andy Bako, Audrey Caron, Elaine Welsher, Kripa Gyawali, Lori Chan, Rachita Desai, and Sarah Chan.
- How have you found the job search in the architectural field?
AB: The initial job search for Co-op positions was challenging. Searching for a position is a trial and error process, and rarely do you land a job on the first try. That being said, the process in finding your position is a lesson in itself – you have the chance to develop your ability to recover from failure, a necessary skill in your future career.
AC: The opportunities in Architecture through myCareer seem to be available only at specific time during the year. I personally had no problem with the job search in the architectural field.
EW: Not easy! It’s a long process, involving a lot of research, contacting employers, drafting cover letters and networking. Especially if you do not have a contact in the industry, it can prove very difficult to get a response from employers and to get your foot in the door.
KG: From my experience, finding a job in architectural field is not very easy. It requires a lot of research, contacts and sending out a lot of application. It always helps a lot if you have any contacts in the industry because most of the hiring are done through contacts.
LC: I found the job search in the architectural field challenging, but I suppose that it would be similar to looking for jobs in any other profession. The most important thing is to keep persevering!
RD: Job searching in the architectural field was not easy. It was a lot of work to continuously look for new job openings and complete applications. Architecture is also a competitive field and it’s difficult to understand what employers are looking for.
SC: Although I’ve been successful in securing co-op work term placements, the truth is that the job search in the architectural field is difficult to step into. What I found most difficult was maintaining the motivation and optimism to continue the job search against persevering through school, seeing many of my friends drop out of the co-op program, and the constant negativity around Carleton’s co-op program. The initial job search was definitely the hardest, which was understandable since I lacked experience in a professional setting and the proper connections. My first co-op placement was an amazing blessing, and it encouraged me to continue with the co-op program. Afterwards, it started to get easier to secure a work term – I still think trying to secure a desirable job is difficult, but I can approach each one with more confidence.
2. Did you get a lot of help from the co-op program at Carleton or did you seek out your own employment?
AB: I sought my own employment. The majority of positions that were recommended by the Co-op office did not align with my own career goals, so I took this opportunity to invest my time applying to firms I was interested in.
AC: I found my 9-month co-op placement at Perkins+Will through myCareer (co-op program) and two summer placements at the Senate of Canada, with the Real Property Planning Directorate with my own contacts.
EW: The co-op program does provide you with some opportunities, but they are very limited, and because they offer so few jobs, the amount of candidates outweigh the number of positions. As a result, many of us have to seek out our own employment.
KG: From my experience, Carleton Co-op program is a great program that allows students to get a good amount of work experience during their undergrad. However, the co-op service and their postings were not the most reliable source for finding work placement. The job posting were very limiting through co-op which resulted in many students from our year to drop out of co-op. So you definitely have to put in your own effort to find job placement in most cases.
LC: The coop jobs I managed to attain were all found under Carleton’s co-op program. However, I do know that many other students looked elsewhere to secure a coop job.
RD: The co-op program was not a reliable source of employment for me as they have a very limited number of openings. I performed my own job search while still applying for jobs through the Carleton co-op program and managed to get a job through both outlets. It’s good to keep your options open.
SC: The co-op program was great at ensuring you met deadlines, and those forced me to finish applying on time. The majority of my placements were from the job postings on Carleton’s co-op website, but there was definitely an inadequate amount of jobs posted to meet everyone enlisted in the co-op program. I knew I had to start somewhere without any connections or experience, so my early work terms built up my resumé and education before I started searching on my own.
- Describe your most recent or favourite placement (position, location, length of work, type of company (ex. Firm, government) and size of company).
AB: Throughout my entire Co-op experience, I worked at Adamson Associates, which is an office in Toronto. Adamson specializes in Construction documents, which was incredibly rewarding to work on to contrast the design-oriented nature of schoolwork.
AC: I was very fortunate to be able to work in two different environments (private and public). My favorite co-op placement was at Perkins + Will, an International Architectural Firm with a small office in Ottawa. The studio focuses its efforts on architecture, interiors, planning and project management for healthcare, science + technology, higher education and corporate + commercial + civic environments.
EW: My most recent (and favourite) placement was with Hatch Architects Ltd. in Mississauga. This was a 4-month placement with a group of approximately 22 architects, designers, project managers and engineers who work mainly on industrial type projects. Hatch Architects Ltd. is a small internal group that is part of a larger engineering company called Hatch. I was able to get a taste of the corporate world, while still having the smaller more intimate business atmosphere, giving me the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on projects and participate in very interesting and exciting work.
KG: My most recent and favourite placement for my Co-op term was at Hatch Architects Ltd. Hatch is an employee-owned corporation with multidisciplinary professional services that delivers engineering, project and construction management services, process and business consulting and operational services to the mining, metallurgical, energy and infrastructure industries. The main head office is located in Mississauga, Ontario. It is an international engineering firm that is located in 6 different continents. I spent my 16 month Co-op work term with Hatch Architects Ltd, which is a recently created Architecture group, originally under the Structural Department. From the Structural Department an architecture group was established, which is now known as Hatch Architect Ltd. This group consists of approximately 22 members, who are the lead architects, designers, technicians and graphic designers. The Architecture group is responsible for a variety of work, not only tied to architectural services, which includes tasks such as interior renovations, landscape architecture and planning services while working with their in-house engineering and land surveying services. Hatch Architects are also in charge of the master planning of land developments as well as designing different types of buildings, including educational facilities, industrial and commercial buildings.
My position was an Architectural Co-op Student. I was able to gain variety of experience in the design and construction side of different projects. My task varied from creating 3D models and producing digital renders to working on construction documents for different projects. I also participated in organizing group event such as group lunch, dinner and also fundraisers with my colleagues. Working as an Architectural Co-op Student at Hatch Architects helped me gain experience in a professional working environment as well as helped me to further develop different skills that are needed to pursue my studies, and later on in my career while allowing me to contribute to variety of projects.
LC: I most recently worked at Public Works and Government Services Canada as an Assistant Project Manager. The office location was amazing, right in the downtown of Ottawa on Sparks Street. I only worked for 1 term, which is 4 months during the summer of 2015.
RD: My most recent placement was this summer at TJX Canada (Winners Home Office) in Mississauga. I worked as a Store Designer in the Property Development department at TJX for 4 months with 8 other members on the Store Design team. TJX Canada is owned by the TJX Companies which is a leading off-price retailer of apparel and home fashions with more than 3,300 stores worldwide.
The placement I completed for the fall and winter term was at the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) in Ottawa. I was a Co-op Student for 8 months in the Capital Projects and Facilities department with 9 other employees. The RCM is a Canadian Crown corporation that produces Canada’s circulation coins and collector coins, and has more than 900 employees based in Ottawa.
SC: My most recent placement is at an urban design and planning consultant firm called Urban Strategies Inc., located in downtown Toronto. The position I currently hold is an Urban Design intern. The length of the placement is 4 months, but it could have been extended if I didn’t have school. The office consists of around 50 employees, with twelve partners at the top. Many of the designers come from an architecture, urban design, or landscape architecture background.
- What type of work did you typically do? Ex. Hand drawings, plans on AutoCAD, group work, etc.
AB: The majority of my responsibilities were drafting of details, plans, sections on a large scale commercial project. I also did a lot of administrative work, attended meetings, and worked on specifications.
AC: My roles and responsibilities reverted around supporting the management team through the various projects phases of several ongoing initiatives, along with specific tasks regarding the definition, conceptualization, future layout and design of some of the existing projects under way. These tasks have allowed me to better understand the various roles undertaken by architects within projects teams; the complexities they are faced with; and more importantly, the contributions they are expected to provide to the overall endeavors.
While working at Perkins+Will, I carried out a number of contract administration tasks regarding a high-profile Institution such as field reviews, deficiency and technical inspections, preparation of Supplemental Instructions, Change Orders and RFIs, as well as reviewing Submittal and Shop drawings.
I assisted in the creation of a Revit Model for a renovation project at a primary healthcare institute. As-builds and on-site documentation served as a basis for the creation of the Revit model. I assisted in the creation of a full drawing set for a University lab retrofit project and worked on the Revit model. I developed design sketches and drawings, including participation in design critics and charettes.
I developed marketing documents and proposals – including the writing of proposals, general marketing and graphic design, preparing promotional materials, project research and awards submission packages.
While working at the Senate of Canada, with the Real Propriety Planning Directorate for two summers, I had the opportunity to work on the Rehabilitation of the Government Conference Centre (GCC) in collaboration with Diamond Schmitt Architects Inc. and PWGSC.
EW: Throughout my year of co-op placements, the type of work I did varied depending on the position I had at the time. My responsibilities almost always involved work done with a computer, some of the programs included Microsoft software (Excel, Word etc.), AutoCAD, Sketch-Up and the Adobe software. All my positions involved working in a team setting.
KG: Throughout my work terms, the type of work depended on the different projects that i was involved in. My responsibilities mostly involved working on the computer using variety of programs such as AutoCAD, Sketchup, V-ray, Adobe suite and Microsoft Software. Most of the projects were group based projects where I worked directly under the lead architect and the in-house engineers. For the first two terms, my tasks were mainly focused on 3D modeling and producing renders for marketing purposes. For the last two terms, I worked on construction drawings (60%, Tender drawings, Constructions Drawings) for few small renovation projects and few big design-bid-build projects.
LC: Much of the work that I did in the position of an assistant project manager was related to the project management of rehabilitation or restoration work of the building in the Parliamentary Precinct Branch. The work that I was assigned varied in difficulty and variety. Sometimes I would be asked to facilitate the coordination between members of a project, which involved emailing and calling people – essentially follow-up work. Other times, the financial department would require help with a presentation and asked me to make graphics for them. Teamwork was a critical part of any project completion, because every project involved a different team of consultants. The most architectural project I did was to draft a plan of the new re-design of the office interior space, and give an opinion on the new layout. Overall, as a student employee, you often fill in the tasks that need attention at the moment, regardless if the task was outlined in the original job description.
RD: During both of my work placements I typically completed floor plans and drawings on AutoCAD, with some additional work in Microsoft Word, Excel, SketchUp, and Adobe Acrobat. At the Mint, I also did a lot of site surveying. There wasn’t a lot of group work but there was a lot of communication between various departments in both of my positions.
SC: My work varied from creating diagrams, plans and presentations, to GIS-data manipulation, computer-modeling project developments or proposals, creating scale models, and researching about project sites. At this workplace, almost all of the programs I used at school were used, in addition to a couple unfamiliar ones that I learned during the work term. Although the intern tasks varied, my entire term was focused on one project; therefore I was constantly working in a team.
- How did you adjust from being in school to being in the workforce?
AB: The adjustment is easy. My workplace was a very positive environment with lots of friendly people, so I didn’t find it too hard to adjust. One crucial skill that came with working in an office was developing your professional interpersonal skills, which will help with any job or relationship in your future career.
EW: It was quite an adjustment at the beginning, I found myself missing the school pace, atmosphere, and flexible schedule. I believe there are some people who prefer the work-life versus others prefer the school-life, I find I fall into the second group. I adjusted just fine though to the work schedule and when it came to finals season, I definitely didn’t miss the stress.
KG: From my experience, the transition from school to workforce required a bit of an adjustment. I found the work to be faster paced with most strict scheduling. However, I did really like that kind of environment. Work compared to school is a lot more detailed and a lot of practical things that can only be learned through practice which i found very interesting. In the beginning of my work term at Hatch, I was working with two other Co-op students so I didn’t feel too intimidating. However, when i started working on variety of projects with tight schedules and deadlines, it did get very hectic and stressful, but knowing that I was learning a lot at the same time and gaining such good experience always kept me motivated. However, I did miss the more creative side of school and the flexible schedule. I would definitely say I prefer the work-life over the school-life.
LC: Adjusting from school to the workforce was the most difficult during my first work-term. Eventually, getting used to the way people conducted work and how they communicated was a result of going to work every day. And most of my coworkers were very accommodating, which was very helpful for my transition!
RD: Having worked in an office setting prior to my co-op term, I think I was well-prepared for the work schedule and atmosphere. It was nice not having homework and being stressed all the time, but I did miss the creative conceptual work from school.
SC: Honestly, I was so lost many times; therefore most of my adjustment to the workforce was done through asking questions. I also found that there were also moments when just starting to do a task without fully understanding it was the best way to grasp it later. Other times, observing the actions of my colleagues taught me about office etiquette.
- What was the biggest difference for you between working and going to school?
AB: One of the biggest differences was getting adjusted to a constant schedule – school is challenging, but it allows you to have a bit more a flexible schedule. Working was flexible in the sense that you don’t need to be working 24/7, but you are expected to be punctual.
EW: The biggest difference for me was that at work you have people relying on you, you have responsibilities in assisting others, and there are heavy consequences if you don’t deliver. On the contrary, with school, you are responsible for your own work and own schedule; it’s a differently mentality.
KG: School and work has its similarities and differences, the main difference being that co-op is more technical and an application of the knowledge gained in school and in practice, whereas school is more theoretical and design based. School teaches the production and origin of an element while work teaches how its use affects the buildings and budget. School is open-ended where best-case scenarios and ideal features are the targets for the design. Whereas, at work, there are more limiting factors such as working with the existing element and space, product availability, legal sizes, and building codes, etc. Even though knowledge that is gained during school is applied at the workplace, there are things such as communication skills with clients and vendors, organization management, collaboration of work not only between workers at the organization but with other organizations, which cannot be obtained in the classroom. Therefore, specifically architecture students should take this as an opportunity to improve the skills they need to improve.
LC: When you’re working, there’s much more initiative you need to take to get things done. The largest difference, in my opinion, is that there are no guidelines or preplanned methods to achieve an end goal. There are often “best practice” scenarios, but most of the time there will be problems that deviate from the norm. It really does depend on you to think critically about the next steps or to effectively gather your resources.
RD: The biggest difference for me was that I wasn’t just working on projects with other architects. I was working with process engineers, mechanical engineers, project managers, drafting technologists, contractors, consultants and others simultaneously.
SC: There are so many differences, but I’ll only comment about a few. Working actually gave me a structure to my life. It was something that I missed during school, since I always felt swamped with work. Even though I did a significant amount of overtime, I was able to schedule my week around a 9-5 work-day. The other largest difference is that there are so many more processes and stakeholders involved in a project than those in school. Since all members in the same team worked together rather than one student per studio project, we were able to produce work at a much faster rate.
- What were your hours outside of work? Did you find you took a lot of things home at the end of the day resulting in late nights or were you able to get what you needed done in a typical work day?
AB: I was able for the most part to get things done during the work day. There were some cases in which we had a deadline and the whole team was working together after hours, but for the most part it was a typical work day. That being said, how much work you get done is dependent on your individual work ethic, so this varies from person to person.
AC: My hours of work were from 8:30 to 5:30 but I have put on much more hours. It was not requested but I wanted to do an excellent job and leave a good impression. When it came close to deadlines, most of the employees stayed late at work. There were also a few weekends that I went to the office in order to finish a few things before the start of the week.
EW: I rarely took my work home after work hours ended. Only if days were very busy, and if there was a big upcoming deadline did I end up working late, however that only happened a few times throughout all my co-op placements.
KG: I did not have to take any work home after work hours. However, I did do quite a few overtime when they needed me to help out with project delivery or when I had several project deadlines in the same week. Most of the work was done during the work hours.
LC: It really depended on where I worked! I found, with a private company, you worked longer hours whereas with a government job, the hours tended to be shorter. Typically, I didn’t need to take any work home with me. Usually, what needed to be completed was finished at work before going home.
RD: No, I never had to take any work home. I was always able to get things done in a typical work day. This was also because my workplaces were flexible with timelines and I was usually ahead of schedule with my work.
SC: As I mentioned, I did a considerable amount of overtime, but still managed to schedule plans around a 40-hour week of work. My work and private life was structured enough so that I was able to join a group at the University of Toronto, get my errands done, and attend social events. When there is a deadline at work though, I end up staying until the job is done.
- Did you focus completely on work or did you take any other courses (ex. Online) at the same time?
AB: After hours I would keep myself busy with my portfolio and additional projects that I wanted to include for my grad school applications. I am planning on applying for grad school this year, so it was nice to get a bit of a head start with application materials (I am also applying to the US so it gave me time to study for my GRE).
AC: I was not able to take any course at Carleton while working at Perkins+Will, since I was also playing Water Polo with the Carleton Varsity team. However, while working with the Public Function, the hours were more stable and I was able to take two online courses over the summer while working.
EW: With my first co-op placement I took the Urbanism Workshop offered at Carleton. My other two work placements I did not take any courses.
KG: During my co-op terms, I did not take any courses, however, I did freelance design work for an Architect during my last work term.
LC: While I was working full-time during the Fall and Winter semesters of 2015, I also worked part-time. Eventually I stopped because it was too busy.
RD: During my fall term, I was in Ottawa so I enrolled in the Urbanism Workshop at Carleton. I had a lot of free time after work so I was able to attend the evening classes.
SC: I didn’t take any online courses, however, I did participate in design competitions with my other friends who were in co-op, since we had the time. I also meant to take the LEED accreditation test, but in the end, didn’t get around to it.
- Describe your typical work day.
AB: A typical work day would consist of taking the GO train from Mississauga to Toronto and getting in at around 8:30am. I would usually work on long term tasks I had been assigned, (i.e. a specific detail drawing), but often times my boss would have something new for me on a day to day basis. Most days I would have a meeting with teammates or consultants to discuss outstanding tasks to complete.
In addition, the work day wasn’t all ‘work’. Breaks were a great opportunity to meet new people and make connections. One crucial lesson I learned was that your interpersonal skills and ability to listen were equally important as your overall work ethic to your success in an office.
AC: In the morning, we would have a team meeting, where we would discuss all projects, and then we would go back to working on our projects and tasks. Once a week, we had a video-conference with the Toronto office. On a weekly basis, I went on site for technical inspections and work progress regarding a high-profile Institution in Ottawa. Apart from team meetings and site visits, every day work was always very different.
EW: Again, this varies on the position (I had a total of 3 different co-op placements). If I were to describe my latest co-op position as an architectural co-op student with Hatch, my days typically ran from 8:30 AM – 5PM. My day-to-day activities varied, but typically I’d be working with the other co-op students in assisting the lead architects on a few different projects. My time was spent usually on AutoCAD helping draft plans, sections, elevations of the project at hand, or spent modelling on Sketch-Up. I’d be working alongside a team, where we’d support each other and answer any questions if needed.
KG: During my co-op at Hatch, my typical work hours were 8 am to 5 pm. For most of the term, I worked construction drawings for 8 different projects where i was working directly under the lead architect and other engineers who were involved in these projects. I spent most of my time working on AutoCAD drafting plans, sections, and details for the on-going construction drawings. I also did 3D modeling using Sketch up and producing illustrations and diagrams using Adobe programs. I also got the chance to go to different project meetings with members from other disciplines as well as meeting with different suppliers.
LC: The typical day at PWGSC would include waking up at around 7:00 am to reach the office by 8:30 am. Usually there would be emails to be checked and read, with follow-up tasks. Other activities would include going to site visits to see the progress of the building or attending meetings to further progress other projects. There would be an hour lunch break where all the coop students tended to eat lunch together. Afterwards, we would return to our stations and resume work. I tended to write minutes, set up meetings, create project schedules, or miscellaneous administrative tasks. On days with special functions, like an annual barbeque, the entire office would go enjoy a lunch function together. My day would end at 4:30 pm.
RD: My typical work day differed between my two placements. At the Royal Canadian Mint, I worked from 8 am – 4 pm, and at TJX Canada I worked earlier hours from 7:30 am – 3:30 pm. At the Mint I mostly worked independently and on my own schedule. I spent a lot of my time site-surveying on the production floor and relaying information into AutoCAD. At TJX, I spent most of my time assisting the Store Designers with store layouts and working on my own projects in CAD.
SC: My days varied depending on the next step of the project. My typical work day could consist of coming in around 9 – checking e-mail or continuing a task from the previous day. The designers on the team that I work with would usually have tasks for me to complete, or I would work directly with a partner to get something done. Sometimes I would be put into a team of computer-modelers and we would all work on the same project simultaneously. There may also be an internal team meeting on the project throughout the day too. I usually go with a couple interns to a new restaurant every week for lunch since Urban Strategies is in such a great location for food.
- Were you able to transfer the knowledge you gained at Carleton to your work?
AB: Absolutely. There were many skills that I learned at Carleton that allowed me to take on tasks that other employees couldn’t – i.e. complex 3D modelling based assignments. That being said, I learned the majority of skills necessary to do my job at the office.
AC: I definitely used the knowledge I learned at Carleton. Moreover, I learned very valuable experience and tremendous additional practical knowledge with my co-op experience.
EW: Not much of the knowledge I gained at Carleton was applied during my co-op placements. Definitely the skills gained during my education were applied. When I was helping with designing and space planning I did find I applied the design skills gained from Carleton, however overall there was a lot more learning while on the job.
KG: There were basic knowledge that I gained at Carleton that I was able to use at work. However, most of the skills were gained through experience and practice at work while getting mentored by my colleagues.
LC: I was able to transfer the knowledge gained at Carleton to work. I found that many skills, such as communication, improved drastically after working. When you attend enough meetings to realize that there are more efficient ways to complete work, you develop better methods of communication. That’s a skill you also bring back to school. Technical skills improve vastly at work, due to the specific types of tasks asked. However, school was important in teaching you the basic controls of several programs (in fact, many people in the office asked for technical help).
RD: I applied more of my skills rather than knowledge that I gained at Carleton towards my work. My position didn’t require nearly as much design, but I did use technical, space planning, problem-solving, and time-management skills throughout both terms.
SC: I was definitely able to transfer the knowledge I gained at school to my work place though it varied depending on the work placement. For example, I held a position with the developer Minto. The work they gave me included a decent amount of design, but I was also helping with budget, schedules, and bids. It was the first time I’d learned about tenders and the economic aspect of construction. In contrast, at my current workplace, the entire focus of my work was on the design process and presentation.
- What kind of support systems were in place for you? Did you get mentored, were you taught to do certain things, and were they receptive to your questions?
AB: Everyone was very receptive to questions. Don’t be afraid to ask! It is better to admit you don’t know something then to waste time not knowing how to do something.
In my case, I sat next to an experienced CAD and Revit whiz – not everyone is so lucky, but there is usually one or two people around you in any case that can answer most questions you have.
AC: The employees at Perkins + Will and the Senate of Canada were extremely helpful and very supportive. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well I was welcomed and integrated to the team and introduced to the current projects, which in turn allowed me to quickly get on with my roles and responsibilities. My supervisor and all my colleagues have provided me with a great deal of technical information, contextual and background information in order for me to better understand the current projects in development and the modus aperandi of the firm / office.
One of the challenges I faced was to understand some very technical vocabulary and terms related to specific projects. They all went out of their way to welcome me, to provide all the technical tools; and the necessary training and explanations when required. It was also my first experience with the concept of billable hours. In such case, it is very important to appreciate the number of hours expected to perform specific task before starting the work, and to manage deadlines and outcome-based results.
As mentioned before, my first co-op experience was in a very different environment. To proceed from a traditional public institution such as the Senate of Canada to an international private firm was a complete shift in my working conditions, the approach and the organizational structure. At Perkins + Will, one of the basic requirement is teamwork. The group is smaller and the organizational structure is much more open, agile and informal. I have access to all team members as well as the project manager and the associate partner. This allowed me to have a better perspective on the various projects.
I had the opportunity to have a mentor, while working at P+W. My mentor was a former student from Carleton University, who had done his undergrad and masters at the Azrieli School of Architecture.
EW: In most of my co-op experiences there were great support systems in place. Many of the more experienced architects or project leaders are very happy to help and mentor students. They are aware we are still in school and they are very willing to answer any questions to help and encourage us to do succeed.
KG: All my Co-op placement had an excellent support systems for the students. All my colleagues and experienced architects and project leaders always went out of their way to help and teach co-op students. They always gave us clear instruction and taught us the project delivery process in detail while working on variety of projects. They were always willing to answer any questions to help and motivated us to do well.
LC: Often, the employer would give an office orientation by introducing me to the rest of my coworkers and how the office functioned. In the places where I worked, I found my mentors and supervisors to be very receptive to questions. It wasn’t just my mentor, but the majority of my coworkers as well. Another support system came from other coop students, who were in the same position as me. We could figure out new tasks together, which made the transition less daunting.
RD: I had great support systems at both of my work placements. In the beginning of my co-op terms, I was taught the basic design standards and was given many of my resources from the get go which was a good start. I had great supervisors and coworkers that gave me all the information I needed to get the job done and were always available to answer any questions.
SC: Every workplace is different and operates differently in terms of support, but all of them had their own ways to integrate students. For example, I held a project management position with the federal government, and they had a standard student orientation booklet that they handed out. They also had rigid policies when it came to educating employees, therefore I was required to take number of courses such as “Working From Heights” and “Construction Management”. In other places, such as my term with Architecture49, it was usually just one or two people who gave me guidance. My current place assigned a mentor to every intern, and the designers often took time to explain concepts or how to do tasks. The office also held lunch learning sessions, which are a great way to continue learning throughout the term. Overall, my work environments have been able to provide me enough instruction to grow throughout my term.
- What did you enjoy most about working?
AB: Making new connections and learning aspects of architectural practice that can only be learned in the office environment. I worked at a big office, so it was the incredible access to resources that made it so rewarding.
EW: What I enjoyed most was the opportunity to gain experience on real, on-going projects. I had the opportunity to work on some large infrastructure projects in the GTA, which to me, was very exciting. To be able to participate in projects which will have an impact on the public, and one day will affect me as well, is very gratifying. It’s also very interesting and valuable to learn about the considerations and process involved in such projects and to bring projects from a conceptual design stage to completion.
KG: I really enjoyed working on real projects and getting to learn a lot more practical and important responsibility as an employee of such a large scaled company. Getting to learn a lot about different infrastructures was very interesting and seeing how a project develops from the conceptual design stage to the construction drawings helped me understand how much work and time is put into different scaled projects. Being able to see what you do on computer come to life was very exciting.
LC: The thing I enjoyed most about working was knowing the work I did had an impact in the broader community. It wasn’t a hypothetical school project, but would be something that’s employed in real life. I know it might be intimidating, but I personally like the feeling of responsibility and being able to complete my assigned work in a way that is productive to the office.
RD: I enjoyed working in companies that were not solely focused on architecture and design. It was really interesting to see how different departments come together for one project, such as a new store roll out. It was also rewarding to see my projects progress from preliminary design stage to real-life implementation.
SC: What I enjoyed the most about working is being able to contribute to real exciting projects. The school setting rarely has the chance for your work to be built, so it’s very rewarding for me to see how I helped facilitate the progress of a project.
- What was the most valuable thing you learned while working?
AB: Time management, making an effort to meet people, and developing your ability to listen. These skills are applicable to any trade, not just architecture…But mastering these skills will allow you to succeed in any position.
AC: Working for a very successful International Architectural Firm such as Perkins + Will, with the level of professionalism and results being expected requires a certain dose of “sang froid” as there is no place for errors. The activities that I performed for the various projects had to be carried with self-discipline and technical rigor.
The time that I have spent at Perkins + Will provided me with an insightful view of the organization and its inner workings, the dynamics created among different groups of professionals taking part in the same undertakings, and the need to trust each other and to appreciate the contributions of the many. I was also impressed with the leadership of the associate partner and the project manager. They took the necessary time to provide contextual information, training and lessons learned. I was also part of the office meetings. Perkins + Will also offered training sessions on software or technical subjects every week over lunchtime. This was a great opportunity to pursue my development. I also attended several meetings with the Toronto office. It helped me gain a holistic perspective of the complexities being addressed, and to better appreciate the contributions of the architects involved in the various program.
This unique experience allowed me to learn about real life architectural projects in my community and to understand how a proposal is developed. I worked closely with the architects, the technicians, the construction specialists and it allowed me to better appreciate their competencies and the common grounds between my profession and theirs. It has been fascinating to learn more about their roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders on and off site (including various construction sites).
EW: Never stop learning! There’s always more out there you can gain from talking with others and getting involved.
KG: One of the most valuable thing I learned while working is that there is so much more to learn. I was told that what we learn in school is only about 5% of knowledge we require to become a successful architect, there is so much more to learn from experience and practice in this field.
LC: The most valuable thing I learned while working was the importance of communication. There were so many times when communication mishaps lead to more work or more money spent on a project. For example, there were so many change orders needed due to mishaps between the client and design team. Communication isn’t simply a means of having the right equipment, it means displaying what is the most relevant to one person or knowing who to ask for help. The finance team in PWGSC was very picky about their diagrams, which was understandable because they needed to audience to understand at a glance their suggested allocation of money.
RD: Communication is very important. There are a lot of people involved in one project and its good practice to keep all stakeholders in the loop.
SC: The most valuable lesson I’ve taken from my experience is that sometimes, how well you do in school is not always reflective of how you do at work. When I was talking to one of the Senior Associates at Architecture49, he said told me that while he was pretty average in school, he excelled in the workplace. What it really boils down to is your work ethic and attitude in approaching your goals. Additionally, there are always people who are willing to help you if you just ask.
- What is your most memorable memory?
AB: Getting to talk to incredibly experienced people. Our office was full of architects that had worked all over the world on critically acclaimed projects, and for me it was amazing just to sit down and have the opportunity to pick their brains about their experience.
EW: With my second co-op position, I worked on the renovation and rehabilitation of West Block, in Ottawa. I had the opportunity to climb up through many levels of scaffolding and stand on top of the roof of the tower. It was an exciting hike and I was able to view the city from an exclusive vantage point, definitely a memorable moment.
KG: The most memorable memory from my Co-op work terms was going to Site visit at one of Air Canada’s airplane hangar located in Toronto Pearson Airport. Getting to see the aircraft up close was really exciting experience for me. Some of my other memorable memory was just going out for lunch and doing fun activities like bowling, fundraising and with my colleagues.
LC: There was one time when I was in a meeting with a very large argument. People were angry, shouting, and someone had even left the room. What was important was how project leader handled the remaining situation. He was very composed and able to talk through the problem. It was a valuable memory because it showed how easy it was to diffuse a tense situation with good communication and a bit of empathy. I won’t forget this meeting, since the whole situation was so intense.
RD: Being the first to see all the new coins that were being made at the Mint. I got to see the PanAm medals up close and I was also gifted a silver coin set for Christmas.
Another memory that was memorable but not a good one was the lock down at Parliament Hill last fall after the shooting. The Mint was under lock down too and it was a very tense afternoon at work.
SC: My most memorable moments were the times I spent with my co-workers, especially the other interns or students that were hired. I made a number of good friends that I still keep in touch with, and we were all very supportive of one another throughout the term.
- What surprised you most about working in the architecture field?
AB: How relaxed it was – this might have been just our office, but it wasn’t what you would typically expect in a big firm. We would have golf and ski days and Barbecues on Fridays – it really was an amazing place to work.
EW: What surprised me most about the architecture field was the striking difference between school and work. The reality of architecture is that there are a lot of constraints that really limit the design, and unfortunately (or fortunately) it’s not how we are first introduced to the field via school and studio work. In reality, architecture projects take a lot of time and factors, such as money, really influence the project and decisions made in the end. Heading into the workforce in architecture, you are definitely hit with reality, and you learn a lot and realize there is always more to learn.
KG: The one thing that surprised me the most was the difference between school and work. The amount of details and restriction that exists in the real world is far more compared to what we consider in our school projects. Also, in real project, design is not the only important part of the project but careful considerations are given to different constraints, budget and cost of the project, the function of the building and the implementation of the building code.
LC: To be honest, one of the things that surprised me was the amount of work put into project management. I didn’t realize that it was a full-time job just to open communication between two ends of teams. There could be many people working on one project, but only the project manager would fully understand all the tasks at hand. Therefore, very frequently it was the project manager who would, or could, answer all the incoming questions.
RD: That there is so much more to architecture than you think. While we are more focussed on conceptual design in the first couple of years of study, it is much more limiting in the real world. There is so much more to consider, such as financing and timelines. There are also more people involved than just the architect. Fourth year exposes us to a lot of this in Design Economics, and even Architectural Technology. In the earlier stages of your architectural career, you could possibly just be working on architectural details and construction administration.
SC: What surprised me the most about working is how much I have yet to learn. I always found every co-op term to be humbling, because I wouldn’t initially understand many processes or concepts. What also was a relief to me was that work was more manageable than my initial idea that it would be similar to the hectic workload at school, though it did get busy at certain times.
- Did working reassure you that this is what you wanted to do in the future or did it make you want to focus on something different in the field?
AB: Working reinforced what I already knew – this is what I love to do.
EW: Working definitely helped me to evaluate whether architecture was for me, it showed me another side to the field and introduced me what it’s like working in the industry. I’m still deciding whether it is the path for me, and I still realize that while I do have experience in several areas of architecture (project management, construction administration etc.) there are other roles out there still in the field that I have not experienced that will be different as well, which I’m still interested in exploring.
KG: Working definitely reassured that I wanted to pursue my career as an architect. After experiencing the more technical side of architecture while working on industrial building, I came to like working on big scaled project. I would also like to gain more experience working in different types of building occupancy before selecting what I want to go into.
LC: At the end of my experience, I realize that I do want to work in the field of design. I’m not sure which field I want to go into, but I know that there are many more options available.
RD: Working exposed me to the reality of the architecture field and the variety of job opportunities that are offered. I was exposed to retail, industrial and office design but there are other areas of design that I would still want to explore before choosing just one.
SC: I’m still on my path to finding the right career, but being exposed to so many different positions without the long-term work commitment was a great opportunity to see the different routes stemming from a degree in architecture & urbanism. Rather than determining an exact career I want to for my future, it made me realize the characteristics of a job that I want, such as a focus on complex urban factors on the resultant design, the type of atmosphere I would want my workplace to have, and a culture of continuous learning.
- Do you feel like you gained a lot from your work experience?
AB: Of course. There is always something to gain from work experience!
AC: As an Architectural Co-op Student, my main objective was to acquire knowledge and learn as much as possible in my area of expertise. Workplace experience as a student is an opportunity to understand how my profession is unfolding in a real environment. This experience provided me with much improved appreciation of how design is applied through the various phases of a project; how team members interact; how quality of life in the workplace is nurtured; how the sense of engagement and belonging is built; and finally how teams of teams are built to ensure successful outcomes for the firm.
EW: Definitely – I gained a lot of experience and knowledge about the industry as well as gained many contacts which will surely benefit me in my future career.
KG: I was able to gain a great deal of experience from my five terms of Co-op placement. These experiences allowed me to learn and work with professional architects and designers which helped me understand and experience the field a lot more. Moreover, I have also learned about the management part of the organization and the different roles and responsibilities as an employee. I was also able to see and experience challenges and difficulties that came with different projects and tasks and how it was resolved. This helped me understand how problems should be dealt with in a professional manner. Looking back at these five work terms, I have been able to reflect on my performance and think about things I have been able to improve on as well as many more things that I still can and will work on improving for my future career. I have also learned how to self-expand my knowledge as well as discover ways to efficiently work in order to increase my speed, which then would allow me to become an even more efficient helping hand in an organization.
LC: I do! I would recommend taking a year off with co-op, because working definitely gives you better insights into how the real world functions.
RD: Yes, I gained knowledge and experience that has definitely helped my way of thinking and designing. It was also a great way of meeting new people and establishing long-lasting relationships.
SC: I’ve gained significant experience through my co-op terms, specifically on the processes done on a project from different stakeholders. I would have liked to have stayed on a project from beginning to end, but there was not enough time.
- Did working influence the way you work at school and think about ideas?
AB: Quite a bit actually. My work was highly technical in nature, so the knowledge I gained in the workforce is highly applicable to making more informed design decisions in school projects.
AC: It definitely prepared me well for my fourth year. I feel a lot stronger now coming back to complete my degree.
EW: To some degree, yes, I definitely consider all the knowledge I’ve learned during my co-op terms, and I find myself weighing practicality and efficiency more so than I did in the past.
KG: Yes, I definitely think it influenced the way I think about projects after finishing my Co-op terms. I think it helped me design in more functional way as well as thinking more critically while complying with the building code. It also helped me design projects in more practical and efficient way.
LC: Yes, working definitely influenced my work and school and my ideas. It’s not that I have less work, but I’ve become more efficient in working. In a way, my ideas have also become more
RD: Yes. I think more about practicality and efficiency now than I have in the past.
SC: Working definitely had an impact on how I work at school in both the knowledge and technical abilities on computer software needed to do these projects. I took away many of the processes that were done to facilitate the progress of a project. They acted as a small guide on how I would start working on my own ideas. My drafting skills on CAD, analysis skills on GIS, and knowledge of the Adobe suite improved drastically, so I am able to complete tasks at school faster.
- Who was the most influential person for you at your work placement?
AB: One of the directors of the firm name Alex Richter. He was my mentor throughout my time at Adamson and helped me with a lot of things outside of the office (i.e. grad school applications and portfolio work). We didn’t actually work together, but I approached him because he was previously a professor at Columbia University, which was quite helpful because I plan on applying there.
EW: I don’t think there’s one single person who was the most influential for me. Overall, talking to the range of people, learning about their experiences, education and path to reach where they are now, influenced me the most. I learned a lot about the field and it opened my eyes to opportunities and other options within the industry.
KG: I had the opportunity to meet many influential people throughout my co-op terms. One of the most influential person for me was the lead Architect that I got the opportunity to directly work under. During my work term at Hatch Architects, he was the one who taught me most of the things and gave a lot of good advice on how I should prepare for the exams to become a licensed Architect. He always went out of his way mentor me and help me throughout my work term.
LC: One of the most influential people at my work was the principal of the architecture firm I worked at (from my previous coop term, not the summer term at PWGSC). He cared greatly about the integrity of his work, which is something I deeply respect. It made me want to work harder because he cared about the quality of his work and the employees.
RD: I think the most influential person for me was the President of TJX Canada, Doug Mizzi. When I spoke to him, he told me three things to look for in a company you want to work for: 1) Financial stability 2) Expanding and growing company 3) Room for personal growth.
SC: For me, I think it’s my direct supervisor and the partner at my current workplace. My direct supervisor is extremely thorough and knowledgeable in working across a multitude of programs (some design, some for data analysis, some for drafting) to portray ideas in a diagrammatic way. I’ve taken away so many techniques from following his lead. The partner who directly manages him was also influential in the way that he gave presentations. He is extremely well-spoken and can portray the right information to any audience (whether it be the city, client, or a sub-consultant), tailoring the right amount of detail. I have much to improve on my own presentation skills.
- While working were you able to make good connections and new networks that will help you get a job in the future?
AB: Yes. I made great connections with quite a few people that are well versed in the local and international market.
AC: Definitely, I encourage every student to participate in the co-op program. It helps you create connections and understand the realities of the working environment.
EW: Yes, I think it’s definitely beneficial when it comes to connections and networks. I met a lot of people in the field, some of which I hope to stay in contact with in the future.
KG: Yes, definitely! I believe making connections and expanding your network is one of the biggest advantage of doing co-op. It really give you a head start when it comes to searching for a job after graduation and much more input about the career. Keeping in touch with them is also very crucial even after finishing your term, because they are always very happy to either take you back after graduation or help you find a job in future.
LC: I was able to make good connections and new networks…hopefully it will help me to look for a future job!
RD: Definitely. I think I made a good impression on my supervisors and coworkers during my co-op term and I wouldn’t be surprised if I got the opportunity to work with them again in the future.
SC: Yes, for sure. I was able to leave some workplaces with an invite back to work if I was interested. I received an invitation from three workplace terms that expressed their interest of having me back. In government workplaces, they also have policies to bridge former co-op students if they were to apply for a full-time position. Additionally, these connections are also sources of reference letters for future applications.
- Do you feel like others you talked to had the same experience as you?
AB: No, actually. Everyone had completely different experiences and did different work, but I think we all felt the same way about it – it was totally worth it and very helpful to our development as students and aspiring architects.
AC: It seems to be very positive for all students in architecture.
EW: Yes, I think others has similar experiences as me.
KG: Yes, I believe others had the same experience as me.
LC: I definitely know that others who did coop and returned to school benefitted greatly from the year of working. The experience wouldn’t be exactly the same, but the majority of the people I talked to enjoyed the places that they worked at.
RD: Similar experience, yes. Some weren’t as successful in their job searches while some were able to find jobs on their own through personal connections. It was really a hit or miss.
SC: My friends who stuck through co-op all eventually ended up completing the 3-term minimum requirement, although I think many of them found their own jobs. I was also different in that I never stayed at one term for more than four-months, which was due to me wanting to gain experience in different types of work. I think the majority of my friends had good experiences, though I do think there are better job placements than others.
- Do you have any tips or information you wish you had received about the co-op program or working in general.
AB: Use the connections you don’t know you have. I got my job through my neighbor who knew the Managing partner of my firm. If I hadn’t spread the news I was looking for a job, I would never have found it.
So – tell everyone!!!
AC: My Co-op experience was extremely valuable and students underestimate it. It is the lessons I have learned in recent months that will serve me the most with regards to my future profession. From the need to understand the organizational context; to the roles and responsibilities of project team members; the needs and expectations of the various stakeholders including the client-groups; the coordination, control and communication requirements that need to be managed in order to make things happen; and more importantly, the leadership styles and qualities that ensure successful outcomes; these are the true outputs that I will cherish the most.
Working at Perkins + Will and the Senate of Canada has provided me with a unique and privileged experience for my co-op terms. This learning opportunity provided me with the tools, working habits, self-discipline, deportment and professional behaviours that are expected, and the sense of responsibilities that will allow me to be successful in the workplace. It has also enable me to better understand the facets of an international and privately owned architectural firm and the Public Sector. My co-op experiences have been more than valuable to my program; it has been a game changer that will alter the way I undertake projects and initiatives. I was involved in several important projects where I tried to contribute to the best of my abilities. I truly recommend this very valuable experience!
EW: I wish I had gotten more of a heads up with regards to the difficulty involved in landing a position in the co-op program. As a second year, the idea of having job experience in addition to the education that everyone receives sounds like a great idea, and very promising, however it really is a lot of work and can be exhausting trying to contact employers. It was a frustrating experience dealing with the co-op program, not what I expected first entering it.
KG: I wish I had known how hard it is to get a job position in this field because it is such a competitive program with limited job in the market. Also in second year, I did not know much about how to go about job searching in the architectural field and having very limited posting through Co-op program was a very frustrating and stressful experience. However, after gaining experience through my first work term after second year, it helped me gain experience that was required for most job as well as helped me prepare for job search after third year a lot better. Never stop applying! Even if you don’t see any job openings, contact firms and send in your resumes. If you have any connection in the industry, always contact them and let them know you are looking for a job.
LC: Interviews are important, and presentation is important too! The purpose of an interview, at least a large part of it, is to see if you would fit well into the rest of the office. In a nutshell, be likable. When an employer has to choose between similar resumes and qualifications, it comes down to personality. Also, the work environment still reflects the typical characters in a classroom setting. There will be people who do more work than others. Always complete tasks to the best of your ability, and don’t cut corners to finish a task. There’s value in completing tasks with quality, and the more effort put in, the greater chance of learning more.
RD: I was determined to do co-op from when I first applied to Carleton and I wasn’t aware of how difficult it was going to be to find a job. Co-op sounds like a really good way of getting some experience under your belt as a student, but you should be aware that it requires a lot of work and may even get frustrating at times. The best thing to do is to continuously work on your resume and portfolio to showcase your skills, apply to everything (it won’t harm you), know the company you want to work for, and prepare yourself well before an interview.
SC: I’m glad I had to opportunity to partake in the co-op program, but I think that Carleton’s architecture co-op program is too weak. There are many mixed and conflicting opinions from the faculty, the students, and the co-op advisors on the relevance of co-op, making it difficult to establish a strong program. In my opinion on the matter, one more year to your studies is a small amount to your overall career, especially if it’s adding to your knowledge and experience, and building up your resumé. It also provides insight into the type of work you could be doing, and therefore helping you determine your choice of career.
Thanks for reading and a big thank you to all the participants; we wish you all the best in the future!
If you have anymore questions you’d like answered please comment them down below 🙂