More co-op programs in schools? Context is important

Some quick thoughts today from a guest: Doug Nesbitt. Doug is a PhD student in labour history at Queen’s University in Kingston and an editor of, a site dedicated to “Canadian labour news and analysis from a critical perspective.”

Doug posted the following as a Facebook comment on this story from the Hamilton Spectator. The story reports on a “panel of business and education experts” in Ontario which recommends that all P-12 students participate in co-op work programs in high school.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.01.00 PM
Images of smiling students on co-op work terms from various Canadian university and college web pages. (Google images search results screen shot)

Just last week Nova Scotia heard from a similar “Transition Task Force,” also a group of educators and businesspeople, which recommends, among other things, that “business, industry, and other employers have an effective voice in developing programs linked to workforce needs.” (Full report here.) 

Doug’s thoughts:

“There’s nothing wrong with work experience and co-ops in our education system. Far from it. But this is about employers once again looking for public subsidies in the realm of job training. They simply refuse to invest in their own workforces. Education should not be brought under the thumb of a labour market where employers currently have the upper hand.

With education funding already under a huge austerity squeeze thanks to corporate tax cuts and privatization boondoggles, comprehensive education will suffer even more, as government whittles it down to nothing more than a 13-year job training program.

We ain’t gonna solve inequality, climate change and other problems if our education system is just focused on creating a capable workforce. We need schools that aim for our kids to be all-round capable people.

Co-op and work experience students need the same rights as other workers at the same job. No two-tiering and unpaid labour.”


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