Employers in any field like to hire new recruits who have done something extraordinary that makes them stand out among the crowd.
In the world of accountancy, students who win the prestigious JDC West business competition have demonstrated the ability to think quickly on their feet, crunching numbers in a high-stress contest where time is short and the stakes are high.
UNBC students Jessica Cave, 31, Nataschia Lukawitski, 21, and Brandon Merritt, 20, added that title to their resumes when they won the JDC West accounting title Jan. 20 at UBC in Vancouver.
The competition involved approximately 600 students from 11 Western Canadian universities competing in 18 categories, including entrepreneurship, marketing, tax, not for profit, sport, human resources and finance. This was the second straight year UNBC has won the accounting competition. Last year, Matt Sombert, Brian Horning and Scott Van Dyk of UNBC captured the trophy in Edmonton.
During the competition, teams of three were given three hours to read a 15- to 20-page business case, identify faults in the plan, come up with a solution, and point out the risks. Then they had just 20 minutes to prepare a Power Point presentation, shown to a room of 50 student peers in front of a judging panel of three to five corporate executives. Following the presentation, judges had five minutes to ask critical questions of the students. Once all the presentations were heard, judges offered their feedback to competitors.
The UNBC case involved a fictitious engineer in Fort McMurray thinking of opening his own business flushing and inspecting sewer lines for residential development. Cave did all the calculations, while Lukawitski and Merritt focused on the presentation. Their case had incomplete financial statements and they made sure to point out that shortcoming to the judges, which earned them a few points other teams missed.
Lukawitski competed on the JDC West tax team for UNBC last year and credits the volunteer involvement of business professionals for helping her team of accountants rise to the top. The case analysis and presentation aspects of JDC West are virtually identical to the exams given to graduates trying to earn their professional certifications as accountants.
"If you don't have the coaching, there's no way you're going to place," said Lukawitski. "I work at KPMG and I think I got my job because I was involved with the team last year. We use individual business cases, so it's real-life practice, and the networking is great because you're being coached by your future bosses.
"It's a huge stepping stone for us."
Lukawitski and Cave, fourth-year students, have both been hired by KPMG. Cave's JDC West involvement not only got her a job as a staff accountant, it helped conquer her fear of public speaking.
"I've got the job I want already, and all our coaches put so much time and effort in and we were glad to show them it wasn't wasted," said Cave. "I wanted to make myself more appealing when the job process comes up and I hate public speaking. It was a full-blown phobia when I was younger, but doing it every week through JDC helped me, and now I don't run the other way when it comes up now."
Their current boss, Lane Zirnhelt, a partner at KPMG's Prince George office, was not surprised Cave, Lukawitski and Merritt captured the JDC West flag. As a coach for the team, he saw them practicing for the competition for four months, training five hours every week, on top of their school course load.
"From an employer perspective, JDC West is a name we look for when we're doing our recruitment," said Zirnhelt. "I think the JDC stuff really exposes them to real-life experience - they're doing case analysis and presentation skills. Most of these guys coming out of university who are part of the JDC team I'd say are probably better than most of the professionals we've got in the organization in terms of presentation.
"Accountants get a bad name for being introverts, and to a certain extent it's true, but most of the ones who come out of the JDC program are very well-spoken with no communication issues."
Zirnhelt said his office would likely have recruited Merritt as well, but he already has a job waiting for him in his hometown of Terrace, with McAlpine & Co. Mandy Kendall, Mike Cutherbertson, Gary Gill and Andrew Holland, all of KPMG, helped coach the winning UNBC team.