Canadian Forces offers co-op program in Windsor-Essex

Students in Windsor and Essex County will be able to get a taste of life in the military with a new co-op program set to start next fall.
A sentry stands at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The Canadian Forces is offering a co-op program in Windsor. (The Canadian Press)

Students in Windsor and Essex County's schools will once again be able to get a taste of life in the military with a new co-op program set to start in the fall.

In a partnership between the Canadian Armed Forces and the school boards, 30 high school students will get school credit for basic reservist training.

"It's the exact same thing as someone who's coming in through more traditional methods," said Sgt. Andy Levesque, an Armed Forces recruiter. "The cool thing for them is it's the ultimate try-it-before-you-buy-it experience."

Sgt. Andy Levesque is an Armed Forces recruiter involved in a co-op program to introduce students to life in the military. (CBC )

Students in the Greater Essex County District School Board used to participate in the program until military funding ran out about five years ago. Over the course of five months, students spend about four hours an afternoon learning basic military training, tactics and winter survival skills.

When the students complete the course, Levesque said they will have the same qualifications as a reservist with the Forces.

"It's like having an advance on a career," Levesque said.

When their co-op placement is finished, students can continue on as reservists, apply to the Forces full time or leave the military. But Levesque said he sees a high rate of students staying on.

"There is no question that we have a fairly high retention rate amongst personnel that undergo the course co-op program," he said.

Voluntary Program

Emelda Byrne, a Catholic board superintendent says she sees this co-op as a new opportunity for students to get involved with skilled trades.

"There's a great interest in what the reserves has to offer," she said. It's about "an interest in trades, employment in Windsor and this is a different pathway to get into different trades and different employment opportunities."

Though the students are qualified as reservists during their time in the co-op, they must be 16 to apply and cannot be deployed until they are at least 18, meaning students won't be forced into combat situations.

Byrne said students — or parents — who are worried about the risks associated with soldiering will be able to speak to a recruiter at a parent information night.

"These areas [in the military] are very good for students to be exposed to," Byrne said. "And it's on a voluntary basis, so if they weren't interested, they wouldn't apply."

About 100 students have expressed interest in the program and Levesque says everyone who applies will be offered a chance at being a reservist, though only 30 will be able to do so through the co-op.