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Earn While You Learn Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Earn While You Learn

It's tough enough to choose your courses for next semester, never mind a career path you'll hopefully pursue for decades. Yet that's the kind of pressure it seems like you're faced with in the years before graduation. How do you find out what different occupations are really like before plunging ahead?

To start with, you can do some virtual investigating. The Web has all sorts of sites to help you assess your skills, interests, values and goals, then match them to career paths you might enjoy and do well in. Click over to, the Youth Employment Information zone from Canada's Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. You'll find tons of quizzes and resources. Then over to the superb online Career Development Manual from the University of Waterloo career centre, After that, Job Futures ( gives you the lowdown on 226 occupations, including average salaries and prospects over the next few years. And if you like to watch, JobTV News has 500 videos on various careers at Readers can check out Career Options magazine at

But maybe you're more physical than virtual. That being so, you can discover a lot by meeting directly with people already in your field. How to do so, short of barging in to someone's office unannounced? Try job shadowing, for one. Visit your school's Career Centre to see if they'll set you up with an alumnus who'll let you follow them around for a day or two. Same goes for mentoring, where you team up with an experienced worker who gives you advice and possibly opens doors for you. There are always information interviews, of course. Short and sweet, you get to meet people who do what you hope to be doing, and hear what really goes on day to day.

Not hands-on enough for you yet? After all, there really is no substitute for experience. That's where temping and part-time work come in to play. If you can squeeze a bit of extra-curricular effort into your busy schedule, you could try to get whatever entry-level employment you can in an organization of the type you hope to work for some day. Likewise with the summer jobs you go after. And if you can't find paid employment, volunteering is a terrific way to learn about your areas of interest (and boost your resume as well). Finally there's co-op, internships and field placements. See if your program offers one of these and consider taking it on for a semester or two.

The key here is to get beyond speculation or assumptions on how you might fit into a certain realm. Not that this will guarantee longevity: The average graduate will have at least five jobs and possibly two or more careers in the 40 or so years of their career span. In other words, do the homework -- but don't sweat having to make a life-confining choice. There'll be plenty of time to change over the years as you gain experience and new, unimagined options begin to appear.No experience, no job. No job, no experience. It's the revolving door of frustration for students and other young workers. How do you break the cycle while keeping up your studies and putting a bit of cash in your pocket?

One approach is to gain work experience in your field of interest as part of your course work. There are three main ways to do it: either via co-op placement, apprenticeship or internship program.

Co-op (short for Cooperative Education) is a great combination of learning and earning. According to The Canadian Association for Cooperative Education, a co-op program 'formally integrates a student's academic studies with relevant work experience.' The following criteria must be satisfied:

- Each work term is developed and/or approved by the co-operative educational institution as a suitable learning situation - The student is engaged in productive work rather than merely observing - The student gets paid for the work performed - The student's progress on the job is monitored by the co-op education institution More information on preparing for a work term, and a complete list of co-op programs by school or province, head over to

If you're thinking of working in a skilled trade, then apprenticing may be the route for you. 'New apprentices see their skills and income grow because of the on-the-job and in-school technical training they receive,' according to The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum ( There are over 200 skilled trades recognized in Canada, although this varies from province to province.

Trades are categorized according to industry type. In the Manufacturing sector, for instance, you could train to be a heavy equipment operator, machinist or welder. For Tourism and Hospitality you could be a baker or cook. Then there's Aerospace/Aviation, Automotive, Construction, Electronics, Health and Beauty, and Services. Apprentices who finish their programs and pass the required exam(s) receive a Certificate of Qualification and journeyperson status.

The third type of 'learn on the job' option is internships. These are like co-op programs only they're often geared toward those who have already graduated. A good example is CareerEdge. They offer 'six, nine or 12-month paid internships for university and college graduates in a variety of fields, including information technology, marketing, human resources and finance.' Their claim? Within a few months of completing the internships, nearly 80% find permanent jobs at competitive salaries, with 60% of these jobs in the intern's own host organization.

Whether you choose co-op, apprenticing or internship, your resume will shout out 'experience!' And that's exactly what employers want to see when it's time for hiring.

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