Wouldn’t it be nice if you could test drive your degree or diploma the same way you did your car? Selkirk College’s Co-op Education program gives students the opportunity to do just that! Co-op students develop hands-on experience in their future careers before they have even graduated. I have been working in an accounting co-op position with Interfor since last June, and it has been quite the ride. Through the position I have strengthened my accounting skills, gained exposure to accounting information and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and discovered what a future career in accounting could be like. The experience has reinforced all that I have learned through Selkirk’s Post-Graduate Accounting Diploma program. Let me share my experience with you.
One of the world’s largest lumber manufacturer’s, Interfor has been supplying the global lumber market for over 50 years and has annual sales of over $2 billion. The company has 17 mills operating in the southeastern US and pacific northwest of US and Canada. Interfor also has woodlands operations in the B.C. interior and coast that are closely integrated with their mill operations. The company produces a diverse line of lumber products, ranging from structural and industrial lines to appearance lumber and specialty lines.
As part of Interfor’s finance team, the contractor payables position operates within the woodland’s segments of the Grand Forks and Castlegar divisions. Contractor payables main objectives are to reconcile log procurement and sales records, ensure contractors are paid for loads delivered, and that the ministry of forestry is paid stumpage tax on harvested logs. Payment to contractors occurs on a bi-monthly cycle, and cut-offs occur mid-month and at the end of month. Contractor payables responsibilities fall into two categories: daily and weekly tasks, and tasks preparing for and following pay cutoff cycles.
On a daily and weekly basis I reconcile loads delivered to the Grand Forks site using the inventory management system, enter logging rate sheets, reconcile stumpage and sales invoices, and prepare payment vouchers. My pre-cutoff responsibilities involve data compilation and verification using excel spreadsheets, preparing adjustments for financial reports, and assembling preliminary financial management reports for review. After cutoff, once all reconciliations and adjustments are finalized and financial management reports are approved, I reconcile and prepare payables invoice journals in the ERP system for posting. I also ensure contractor payables statements are emailed to contractors in a timely manner, as our contractors rely on the statements for their own accounting records. Additionally, I provide support to the woodlands accountant by preparing payables, sales, prepaid and accrual accounting entries in the general and accounts payables journals of the ERP system. I also assist the Castlegar division’s accounting assistant with contractor payables tasks when required.
The contractor payables position requires a background in accounting with a strong foundational knowledge of key accounting concepts and principles. I use critical analysis and verification assessments regularly to ensure my work is consistent, accurate and complete. The position requires a high level of organization and time management to ensure deadlines are met in a timely manner. I created a series of checklists and Outlook reminders to ensure assigned tasks are efficiently executed. Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential, especially because most of my co-op has been on a work from home mandate due to COVID restrictions. Working from home has also highlighted my ability to work independently, and I enjoy the autonomy I am given when undertaking my responsibilities.
The initial training process was rigorous, as I was collectively introduced to contractor pay responsibilities and woodlands operations processes. The two departments are inextricably linked and a basic knowledge of the woodlands operations is required when performing accounting tasks. Throughout training I consistently recorded notes and revisited processes or concepts that needed more clarity. Intermediate proficiency of Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word, Excel) is required, as the programs are inherently used throughout the workday. I was also trained on several accounting and inventory management software programs and learned most programs easily. However, I did have difficulties at first using Microsoft Dynamix AX, an ERP system that manages Interfor’s financial data and reports. Because my initial exposure to AX was limited to bi-monthly entries, I found it challenging to recall how to navigate the program after a hiatus. Once again, I relied on notes to remind me how to carry out certain tasks. Interfor has also been implementing LIMS, a new inventory management system, and I have been assisting with various stages of the testing process.
As an imminently organized person that thrives in a structured work environment, I felt quite comfortable early on in my position. The close-knit, supportive finance team fosters a workplace culture that encourages autonomy while also working together to achieve goals and results. I really enjoy applying accounting concepts and principles to daily tasks, which reinforces my academic knowledge with real world examples. A few of the accountants also recently wrote their CFE exams, and I have discussed my future CPA PEP program goals with them. My experience so far has confirmed I really have found my calling in the accounting profession!
The accounting courses I have taken at Selkirk provided an essential foundational knowledge that I use daily during my work term. My co-op term has highlighted the importance of ERP systems in the accounting profession, and the ERP section covered in the Accounting Information Systems course has been very useful. I had initial challenges using a different version of Microsoft Office, as my personal computer has Office 2011 for Mac. The differences were considerable enough that I was less efficient at some tasks until I adjusted to the Windows version. In the future I will be switching to a PC computer and making sure I am using the most up-to-date versions of Office to stay current. I also plan on augmenting my excel skills by taking some advanced courses.
The accounting co-op position at Interfor has been an incredible opportunity that really lays the groundwork for my future goals and aspirations. Once my co-op term is complete, I will have a more competitive resume, increased confidence in my skills and abilities, and a comprehensive vision of what my future career will be like. I have thoroughly enjoyed my co-op position at Interfor so far, and highly recommend Selkirk’s Co-op program to other students. If I could provide any advice to future students, it would be to make sure to take notes during the training process and follow up on concepts or tasks that need clarification. Asking questions is a huge part of the learning process, even outside of the classroom. That said, there is some education that can’t be learned in the classroom, and that is what Selkirk’s co-op program is all about!