Students in accounting and finance at the Asper School of Business benefit from its reputation for employability and its active student groups.
“We’ve been told it’s the most active student body in Canada,” says head of the department of accounting and finance, Sarath Abeysekera.
Most of the events are attributed to the Commerce Students’ Association, which has earned notoriety on campus and beyond for its Commerce Socials, each one attended by thousands.
“The Commerce Students’ Association holds about 60 events per year, many of them professional development events,” says director of the Career Development Centre and Co-operative Education Program at Asper, Kelly Mahoney.
About 13 different student groups, each aligned to a particular major, are active within the bachelor of commerce (B.Comm.) programs.
Many of the events expose students to networking opportunities within their industry.
Students’ visibility throughout their studies, to the very companies that will eventually hire them, contributes to their high odds for employment.
“Typically over 80 per cent of our accounting grads are working full-time in their field of study,” says Mahoney. “And our co-op students, actually, their employability rate is in the 90s.”
Eighty-five per cent of the co-op students generally have offers for full-time employment prior to graduation. Admission to the co-op program is competitive, so students have to have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA to apply. The program admits 100 students per year.
Interested individuals must submit a written application and be chosen for an interview to qualify. Since the students will be almost immediately working within industry and facing employers, the interview is a chance for program heads to test their maturity and employability.
“It’s important that the students that we put out into employers’ workplaces have maturity and professionalism to be able to represent themselves well, but also our program and our school well,” says Mahoney. “They give us a reputation, good or bad,” furthers Abeysekera.
The Career Development Centre hosts its own events for students to help prepare them for success in the interview process and in the labour force upon graduation.
An event called Resumania at Asper puts the students in front of different companies or representatives for short spurts to give the students feedback on their resumes – like speed dating for job applicants. About 35 different companies participated in the most recent event.
Events such as these expose students to the diversity and breadth of opportunities in their field.
Students are often familiar with the larger, big-name companies out there, but they aren’t acquainted with the scope of the industry. “They don’t necessarily know that about 95 per cent of people hired are hired through small/medium-sized businesses,” says Mahoney.
Though some of the businesses may not immediately come to mind when thinking about their futures, all they have to do is look at the career portal accessible through the Career Development Centre’s website to see what is available. Last year, the department posted 1,100 active jobs in the industry for students to browse.
“The labour market outlook for accounting is very strong, and it’s an in-demand profession,” says Mahoney. “We have many of the top firms across Manitoba hiring accounting grads into industry.”
For finance majors, the job prospects are just as vast.
“Any company you can think of has a department of finance,” says Mahoney.
“When you’re talking generally, often the first thing you think about is banking.
“There’s a number of different areas within the banking industry.”
RBC is one example of a bank that is eager to take on Asper interns and grads.
“We enjoy the internship opportunity because it gives us an opportunity to evaluate this individual and see if they’re fit with us, but more importantly they can evaluate our culture: the way we serve our clients, what we do for our employees – that’s huge for us,” says branch manager for RBC at Portage and Collegiate, Marcel Tetrault.
“Our internships generally can run for several years. Ideally you can do one year of summer with us, come back on an even casual basis throughout the winter months, and then come back in the second year to progress in the internship,” he explains.
When it comes to what his bank is looking for in employees, he says their personalities, work ethic and experience may outweigh where or what they’ve studied.
“The technical aspect of banking; we can train you, product knowledge; we can train you.
“A lot of that can be learned over time. We are looking for people who enjoy being with people, want to serve – all of those things. We try to find people that have dynamic personalities as well,” says Tetrault.
“Education is one thing, then obviously life experience is another. So, do you have customer service experience? Do you have relationship management experience?
“We always look for people who have those skills, and then if they have the educational background, then that’s even better.”
The reputation of Asper certainly doesn’t hurt job prospects. “Our organization has been very involved with the Asper School of Business,” says Tetrault. “We do a lot of onsite activities there.”
Students often do a double-major at Asper, and the majors of accounting and finance regularly coincide. Accounting, the most popular major spanning 30 to 35 per cent of the B.Comm. students, is currently undergoing a shift. The Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified General Accountant (CGA) designations often sought by grads are amalgamating into a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.
The CPA will be a web-based module and cover a wide spectrum while being recognized internationally. “We have to compete nationally and internationally,” says Abeysekera.
Many grads of Asper, including the finance and accounting grads, seek out professional designations post-graduation.
“The faculty’s job is to prepare the students for success once they go into those professional modules afterwards, and we do that very well,” says Mahoney.
“This is sort of a stepping stone for them, and then there’s often additional schooling or designations that they will pursue.”