A total of 27 students participated in focus groups or semi- structured interviews. The transcripts from these sessions provided a rich source of data from which to extract common themes pertaining to students’ perceptions and beliefs about work and learning opportunities in New Brunswick, their costs and benefits, the barriers associated with them, and recommendations for their improvement. Although opinions about work and learning programs were generally positive and consistent with findings from the survey, several concerns were also raised. While each participant approached the issue from a different perspective, many raised similar concerns. The findings reported in this section reflect the dominant views and observations from the qualitative analysis. Individual quotes are provided as an illustration of these dominant themes.
Students who had experience with some form of work and learning program cited a variety of reasons for participating. Many of the reasons mirrored those chosen by survey respondents. Reasons ranged from gaining work experience, incorporating more diversity in the academic program, “test-driving” different workplaces, developing a network of contacts, applying skills learned in school, earning money, gaining personal confidence and encouraging the desire to pursue PSE.
Ça donne une chance de voir dans quoi tu vas travailler une fois que tu auras terminé tes études et ça peut te donner le goût de continuer.– Université de Moncton Student
Students expected to gain an understanding of the workplace environment and to be treated as regular employees. In most instances, though not all, students’ expectations were met. A few respondents said that participating in work and learning during PSE helps overcome the “catch-22” situation many new graduates experience in that, on the one hand they cannot secure employment without experience, while on the other hand they cannot gain experience without employment. Experience gained through work and learning placements helped some students feel less intimidated about the workplace and gain skills that could help them be successful during job interviews. Many expressed the belief that their experience would provide them, if not with a job immediately following graduation, they would at least gain positive references and contacts to help them obtain employment.
The contacts that I made were just amazing. Networking is very good for a future job and references also.– St. Thomas University Student
The most often cited reason for not participating was lack of awareness or lack of availability of work and learning opportunities. It is also noteworthy that although money was stated as an incentive for participating by some informants, it was also a frequently mentioned barrier. Several informants stated that relatively high fees were sometimes required to participate in some programs (e.g., $500-$800 for a co-op term), while some placements were either unpaid or paid very little.
Some of the kids I know in Engineering who don’t go through the co-op system, they can work here or there and make 25, 30, 50 dollars an hour.– UNB Undergraduate Student