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More than a dozen of the employees at Zebra’s Mississauga office are current or former students from U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year (PEY) program, including Coby Segall (back row, second from left), Jordan Varley (front row, first from right) and Jagdeep Rangi (front row, second from right). (Photo: Neil Ta)

When Coby Segall (ECE 0T1 + PEY) chose to spend his Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship at a Mississauga engineering firm, he was the only U of T Engineering student at the company. Though he didn’t know it at the time, he was starting a trend.

More than a decade later, Segall is Manager of Research and Innovation at Zebra Technologies and one of 15 current or former PEY students working at the company. Through his continued involvement with PEY, Segall is making sure that other U of T Engineering students get the same opportunities he did, and enriching his company’s talent pool at the same time.

“The calibre of PEY students that join us is incredible,” says Segall. “The students that we hire are not only top of their class from a technical perspective, but they are also very creative, great communicators and ready to take on any challenge.”

PEY is the largest paid internship program of its kind in Canada. While many universities offer four-month co-op placements, PEY is different: it’s a full-time job lasting one year or more. Approximately 70 per cent of PEY students subsequently get job offers from the companies where they did their placement. In 2015-2016, more than 780 students from U of T Engineering accepted PEY placements, many of them outside of Canada.

“We work with many great hiring managers like Coby who are adept at identifying talent, understand the process, and ultimately take advantage of the value PEY has to offer,” says Chioma Ekpo, Assistant Director, Engineering Career Centre/PEY Program. “The unwavering support of industry partners like Zebra makes it possible for our students to hone their professional skills and gain insight into their value and contribution to the workplace. It’s a real boost to their confidence as they craft their unique career story.”

Zebra — which makes leading-edge rugged mobile computers including handhelds, wearable and forklift-mounted computers along with radio-frequency identification (RFID), data capture, cloud-based device management and location and motion sensing solutions — is currently hosting eight PEY students. On Segall’s product innovation team, responsible for creating the company’s next generation concepts, eight of the ten team members came through PEY.

Many former PEY students who joined Zebra permanently after graduation point to their work experiences as key to their career development. “I liked the challenges and problem solving associated with working on something new,” says Jordan Varley (ElecE 1T1 + PEY). Varley had been considering a career in academic research, but his 2010–2011 placement as an electrical designer at Zebra changed his mind. “It really validated that applied research, as is done in industry, was a great fit for me.”

“My PEY internship at Zebra provided me an opportunity to apply the knowledge I gained at U of T,” says Jagdeep Rangi (CompE 1T2 + PEY), who worked as a software developer for Zebra from May 2011 to September 2012, and is now a member of Segall’s team. “It helped me grow both professionally and personally, and provided insight to better focus my career goals. Zebra provides an open, challenging and creative work environment which motivates me to push my limits.”

Segall believes that one of the reasons PEY students enjoy their placements at Zebra so much is because of the opportunities they have. “Zebra believes in empowering PEY students to take on a lot of responsibility in projects that they work on,” he says. “We find that providing students with strong mentoring allows them to make significant contributions.”

For example, this year three PEY students started a lunch-time club focused on exploring applications related to the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT refers to the trend of designing internet connectivity into an increasing number of devices, from automobiles to household appliances. Twice a week, the PEY students led sessions with engineers and product managers to explore what IoT will mean for Zebra’s business along with its partners and customers in the near future.

Momentum is growing. More than 120 prospective applicants attended an info session for the next set of PEY placements at Zebra. “Each year, we learn how to better work with our PEY students,” says Segall. “We keep refining our program to make the PEY experience as good as it can be, both for the students and for Zebra.”

Learn more about U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year (PEY) program.

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Marit Mitchell
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