Job shadowing sparks students' career potential

Job shadow program connects record number of students with potential employers, and helps alumni give back.


(Edmonton) For most students, Reading Week was a chance to take a break. But many at the University of Alberta spent last week learning one of life’s biggest lessons—picking the line of work just right for them.

A record number of undergraduates, graduates, post-docs and even some alumni from various faculties took part in the CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre job shadow program, as it placed students into Edmonton workplaces to give them an idea of what kind of careers they’d find most fulfilling.

The job shadow program has grown steadily since it was launched by CAPS, from 62 pairings in 2011 to 233 this year, matched with 152 job hosts. The demand also hit a record of 475 student applications this year, reflecting the program’s increasing popularity. A career centre jointly created by CAPS with the faculties of arts and science has also resulted in the highest-ever number of participating students from those areas, with 54 from arts and 52 from science.

“It tells us that students want to make meaningful connections as they decide on careers,” said Joan Schiebelbein, director of CAPS. “This program really reflects the U of A values of discovery learning and about connecting communities, in a way that makes sense to students and to potential employers.

“That learning is very positive; it brings an awareness of themselves, what drives them and what opportunities are available,” she added.

Students like Lindsay Jessup spent a day with one or more workplace hosts, getting a feel for the work at hand. Jessup, a third-year sociology student in the Faculty of Arts, shadowed Mary Pat Barry, vice-president of communications for Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures.

Intrigued by the field of communications, Jessup leapt at the chance to shadow Barry, a U of A alumna from the Faculty of Extension. “It seemed like a good choice for someone who wants to work with people, and with my sociology background, it might make a great career for me.”

Jessup spent a day with Barry, attending meetings that sparked her excitement as an arts student. “They really worked as a team, and I loved the creativity behind it; they put their own personalities into what they do. I’ve always had an organized, creative side. I like the fact that there’s a job that is perfect for that.”

Jessup now plans to focus the last two years of her studies on earning qualifications to apply to the U of A’s Master of Arts in Communications and Technology (MACT) program, and in getting some writing published. She also plans to build her listening skills through volunteer work on campus.

Barry, who holds a MACT degree, has hosted U of A students for a few years and sees the job shadow program as a stepping stone to strengthening Alberta’s future.

“The University of Alberta has gone out of its way to find creative ways to link the students and their abilities to employers in Alberta, which is particularly important right now. We are trying to retain the best and brightest of Alberta graduates here. Alberta businesses need their skills and their enthusiasm. This is a perfect way to introduce them to the workplace and start to build a relationship. These students could very well be our employees of the future,” she said.

Sharing her experience as a U of A alumna is especially rewarding, Barry added.

“Alumni know first-hand the benefit of a U of A degree, so it behooves us to give back. Through a program like CAPS, the university becomes a launch pad for the great things the students of today will make happen.”

Alumni play a valuable part in helping students along in the self-discovery process when choosing a career path, Schiebelbein added. “Students like to hear how other people have done it. It has impact when they hear that directly from alumni.” To build on that engagement, CAPS created a career network to link with U of A alumni, build a forum and broaden connections in the working world.

The job shadow experience also creates some vital connections between U of A curriculum and emerging career areas, Schiebelbein noted.

“This year we had a placement with the City of Edmonton in urban planning, which coincides with things like the Planning Program jointly offered by the U of A’s arts and science faculties.” Other placements also happened in a mix of not-for-profit, public and private sectors including a bank, an animal shelter, a video game company and a government task force.