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Growing Our Own: Urban Systems Wins Okanagan College 2018 Co-Op Employer of the Year

This summer Okanagan College (OC) honored Urban Systems with their 2018 Co-op Employer of the Year award. On hand to accept were Jared Wilkison and Sheldon Gull, both alumni of the Civil Technology program at OC and both former co-op students themselves. Today Jared is a Principal, Supervisor and Transportation Designer and Sheldon is a Principal, Project Manager and Civil Engineering Technologist, both with Urban Systems. They say the co-op program—which Urban Systems has been participating in for decades now—makes a tremendous impact on a student’s professional growth and is also beneficial for Urban Systems’ existing team members and for recruiting.

Co-op students from the OC’s Civil Engineering Technology program may work at any number of Urban Systems’ offices and perform in a wide range of technical support positions related to strategic planning, engineering, environmental science and urban design services. Urban Systems also supports the program by participating in on-campus events, classroom presentations, interviews and more.

Jared Wilkison

“The students we bring on from OC have a fabulous skillset that in some ways is almost catered to exactly what we do here,” says Jared. “I’m fond of saying the world’s best job interview is a summer job, and often we’re able to eventually make an offer for full time employment to students after their graduation. We see co-op students as valued team members, not temporary employees.”

Sheldon agrees and remembers his own experience as a co-op student and how valuable finding a good placement was. He recalls sifting through many job postings that didn’t fit his career game plan and says that’s part of why Urban Systems has so much to offer students. “Not only are the students able to come here and get really relevant experience, they can also potentially make a career with us if things work out. We don’t take it for granted when we have co-op students, we take them under our wing from day one—we talk about growing our own here, and this is the perfect opportunity to invest in and mentor someone from the very beginning of their career.”

Gerry Born, Co-op program coordinator at OC since 1996, says that this attitude has led to Urban Systems having a great reputation at the school and that word is out among students that it is a great place to work. Each year when the summer positions from various companies are posted at the college (usually about 30 to 40), the positions from Urban Systems are in high demand, fostering some healthy competition among students.

“The feedback from students has always been very positive,” says Gerry. “We hear time and again that their experience with Urban Systems has been exceptional. Co-op positions are such a special opportunity for professional growth. It makes students’ eventual transition to full time work a lot easier and does wonders to increase their confidence.” Gerry adds that in the civil engineering field in particular, co-op placements are in high demand, with between 75-80% of students eager to participate.

When looking to bring on co-op students, Jared stresses that “attitude over aptitude” is the name of the game. “Yes, an individual needs a baseline level of science and understanding, but more than that, especially early in their career or in an internship, is to have that good attitude, to be open to learning, engaged, listening and plugged in. Attitude is number one, as is a good dynamic and fit with the team.”

Sheldon Gull

Sheldon says co-op students also help grow mentoring skills in other staff at the branch. “We make sure each student has multiple trainers or mentors, with one coach who follows up as we go along to make sure everything is going well. Bringing on co-ops matures our junior and intermediate practitioners, who we’ll tap on the shoulder and say to: ‘Hey, can you be a mentor and show someone the ropes, take them under your wing?’ It builds a collegial environment and camaraderie. You learn while you teach. I learn so much from these students, especially with the software, it blows my mind how sharp they are.”

Sheldon likes that co-op students bring a fresh perspective to their work that he says is contagious to the whole team. “I liken it to seeing things through a child’s eyes for the first time; you really see their excitement and their brains firing on all cylinders. They’ve got lots of great questions, and it can be so invigorating to the whole team—it renews the energy and leads to higher morale all around.”

Jared and Sheldon say they encourage their colleagues across Urban Systems to get involved with their local college or university. “Go back to where you graduated from and visit your profs,” says Jared. “Talk to them about the resumes they have in hand and ask how people are as students and people. If you’re engaged at your institute level and go to industry nights, people will start to know who you are and you’ll get good candidates in return. Having a relationship with an institute helps with hiring so much. It’s really such a win-win.”

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