Oct. 8, 2019

Student job placements climb as engineering school expands paid work experiences

Engineering interns expected to earn a combined $31.1 million this coming year

Author

Sarah McGinnis, Schulich School of Engineering

While Calgary’s economy is still finding its feet, a quiet revolution is unfolding at the Schulich School of Engineering where more engineering students are participating in paid work experiences than ever before.

“It’s all part of a career-focused movement to increase meaningful work-integrated learning opportunities for all UCalgary engineering students,” says Jenny Cruickshank, associate director of student services at the Schulich School of Engineering.

For the third year in a row, a new record has been set in engineering internship placements by the Engineering Career Centre a student service dedicated to promoting career readiness for engineering students.

This fall, 566 engineering students are currently on paid internships, up from 360 students in 2016. The nearly 60 per cent increase in just three years includes a boost in internship placements across all engineering departments.

Currently, engineering students are encouraged to pursue a 12 to 16-month paid work experience between third and fourth year of their degree. With students earning an average of $55,000 per year during their placements, that means these engineering students will be generating a combined $31.1 million to put toward their studies while also gaining first-hand experience in the workforce.

Tiffany Dang

Tiffany Dang considers her year-long paid work experience key to launching her engineering career.

Courtesy Tiffany Dang

“As a biomedical engineering student, my internship was the chance to get my foot through the door into this industry,” says Tiffany Dang, who just completed a year-long work placement at BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. near San Francisco.

“I learned a significant amount during this internship, received hands-on experience in the field and created an invaluable network of individuals in the biotechnology industry. Not only did it give me the necessary tools to launch my career, but it also provided me insight about my next steps in developing my career as an engineer,” she says. 

It’s not just the volume of students placed that has increased; so has the quality of student work experiences. This fall, the engineering internship program received formal accreditation from Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada, the lead organization for work-integrated learning in Canada, as part of recognition of the calibre of work placements being facilitated for future engineers. 

In their accreditation letter, the review team also highlighted the increase in companies who hired interns over the past three years, “despite the fact that the oil and gas industry in southern Alberta experienced significant turmoil during the period.”

Cruickshank credits her team’s proactive measures to partner with new employers across Canada and around the globe, year-round intake for job opportunities, more flexible timing for work experiences, and new supports to help students identify, apply and interview for positions as contributing to their continued success. The Engineering Career Centre is working on new programs and supports to expand work-integrated learning opportunities even further across the engineering school, she says.

Elmi Abdi just completed his internship with Canadian Pacific Railway helping redesign rail crossings in Western Canada to meet new federal safety requirements.

“It was a one-in-a-million opportunity, working on that project and that position,” Abdi says of the role, which is helping improve rail-crossing safety and hopefully save lives. “It had never been done before and it was such a perfect opportunity. Not only was it great work experience, I was being paid a fair bit, too.”

He credited the Engineering Career Centre’s Career Pop-up and Mission Possible events as being incredibly helpful. Even though his job search was longer than other students he didn’t accept his offer until the last day he was eligible Abdi says the team worked very hard to help him find the right position. They never gave up on him.

Zewei (Kurt) Tang

Zewei (Kurt) Tang credits the support of career advisers to help him secure a 16-month internship.

Courtesy Zewei (Kurt) Tang

Zewei (Kurt) Tang also says the Engineering Career Centre staff were instrumental in helping him find the right internship placement. They reminded him of key deadlines and career fairs, helped him apply for his work permit since he’s an international student, and provided support throughout the process.

It was definitely valuable for me to start my career as a engineering student. It makes my resume look much better with this 16-month internship at ATCO, and I feel more competitive when I try to enter the industry and try to seek engineer-in-training position after graduation,” Tang says.

If you know someone who is interested in hiring an engineering intern, please connect with our employment specialists at engineer@ucalgary.ca