PEO Student Conference: Seize Your Opportunities

Gabrielle Klemt - 1T Geological
Posted on: November 19, 2016

If there’s one thing this conference taught me, it’s that politics could be an option for me down the road, especially if I stay as petty as I am now. And if there’s a second thing I learned, it’s that as university students we are just little caterpillars exploring the ground and we need to prepare ourselves for the future after school when we become butterflies. Is that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? Read to the end, you might see something you like better.

Two weeks ago, on November 4, a group of engineering students from across the province descended on the nation’s capital for the Professional Engineers of Ontario Student Conference or PEO-SC. Have no fear, I’ll give you a rundown of the sessions that were held and the wisdom I gained, but I also want to focus on another experience I got to have, due to the location of the conference.

On Friday morning, fifteen or so students met up at the Eternal Flame outside the Centre Block. After brief introductions, we made our way inside the famous building, through security, and met up with our guide, who works in the office of Marilyn Gladu, a Conservative MP and the first (and only) female engineer in Parliament. We also met up with Howard Brown who would be with us throughout the weekend. A brief tour of Centre Block took us to the Senate Chamber, the Library, and the Memorial Chamber, learning historical tidbits as we went. Next, we went through another security check to get into Question Period. On the way up to our seats for the period, we ran into a group of MPs rushing to their own seats.

Howard, who used to work as a journalist at the Hill and somehow knows literally everyone in the building, stopped almost everyone to say hi and have them meet us. I got to meet Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment, and Bardish Chagger, who was most excited to meet yours truly, as a UWaterloo student. Question Period itself was very eye-opening, especially how raucous the opposition side would get, shouting, booing, cheering; it seemed pretty childish compared to how calm the Liberal side was. I’m not going to lie, I was much more impressed by how the Liberals presented themselves, but also sad that I could not take part in some shouting and clapping.

As far as the discussion of the day, I found it really interesting. Their main topic was infrastructure spending, which always seems boring, but is basically the cornerstone of society so… (see what I did there?). But as someone working for a federal department right now, in a sector that sees where federal funds go, I thought the opposition’s constant line of “where’s the money being spent?” pretty uninformed. I’ve spent the last three months listening to and taking part in discussions about the massive amounts of federal infrastructure money being spent on retrofitting projects and other plans. Perhaps the Conservatives want to see huge new buildings being created or fabulous upgrades, but those things all take time, as one of my coworkers was saying the other day, and there are smaller projects that are easier to plan that need to get taken care of first. I’m not taking sides here; I just thought it was really interesting how our Parliament discusses things, and how the details that I know because of where I work are not communicated when the opposition behaves the way it does and refuses to listen to what progress is being done – but that’s a problem with the system, I think.

After the official Question Period, we hosted a question period of our own with Marilyn Gladu, over a lunch in one of the private dining rooms. She had a very interesting perspective as someone who came into politics after years of working as an engineer. Her career path was so trailblazing that she “built a bathroom everywhere she went”, being the first female to work at many of the companies who hired her. Next, a few of us headed to the Engineers Canada head office a few blocks down from the Hill to talk to CEO Kim Allen and learn about the distinctions between his organization and PEO.

The interesting discussion lasted until we had to head back to our hotel to get ready for dinner at Mill St. Brewery on the river, and a night out exploring Ottawa’s scene with some students from across Ontario. The next day’s sessions were interesting enough from the get-go to keep me awake, quite the feat for a Saturday morning. We heard from a recruiter who works at YellowPages (and apparently they’re not a phonebook anymore) about how to land that job you want. We also heard from representatives for PEO, Association of Consulting Engineering Companies, Engineer Your Life, and Engineers Without Borders. My main takeaways were the following:

For job finding, a lot of the info was stuff we learn in that 1A co-op course on utilizing key words from the job description to customize your resume and always having a few questions prepared for the interviewer. He did, however, really stress your online presence and the importance of making sure it reflects you, as well as really using LinkedIn to reach out to employers. The talk from PEO was about the importance of engineers entering politics. Unfortunately, the majority of political representatives currently rely on other people’s information versus their own understanding when looking to pass laws and bills on complex scientific or technical issues. Having engineers in the group of people who create and pass these important laws means there’s greater understanding about the issue. The president of ACEC talked to us a lot about the importance of moving away from billing hours, to paying for work done in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness; he also encouraged us to look into consulting companies for future employment. Lastly though, he wanted us to think about switching our mindsets from always thinking initial lowest cost to final project costs. His view is that taking the lowest bid will lead to the highest expenditure be it down the road or during project completion. The presentation on life design from Engineer Your Life founder Erica was pretty inspiring. She challenged us to come up with life criteria by which to compare experiences and eventually tailor your life; to be honest, it was really fascinating and I’m not sure I can do it justice so I highly recommend you check out their website engineeryourlife.org, her best advice was to join a movement, and see where it takes you.

This conference taught me to seize the opportunities I’m given. We are living in a competitive job market right now, and because of co-op, us Waterlooians know that better than most students. It’s time to accept those business cards, get our dream job experiences, evaluate what we want out of our own lives, and then go seek it out and take it! Too much excitement for an article about a conference you think? Wrong! I say (and not in the Trump way either), there’s no better time to be excited about our prospects, the job world needs us and it’s our duty to become some fly-ass butterflies and give them what they need.