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SFU Co-op Student

Shot of a police building from an aerial view
Working as a financial assistant gave me insight to what life is like in an office environment after finishing an undergrad degree at SFU

Joey Mak: Fighting crime one journal entry at a time. Business student Joey Mak worked an eight month co-op with the RCMP, gaining enriching experiences. From processing salary reconciliations to conversing with officers at the Pacific RCMP Headquarters with a little bit of database management and programming in the middle, this co-op experience had it all.

In the last eight months working as a Financial Assistant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), I gained many experiences that have enriched my life as an undergraduate student. This was my first full-time job in a government position, and I honestly did not know what to expect. I have heard that government positions with Canada are stable, secure, extremely bureaucratic and well-structured.

After submitting my application near the end of the school semester, I was contacted for an interview. It was in Surrey, a city I was not accustomed to besides going to Surrey Central for an occasional class. During the initial interview, I answered questions from the interviewer and had the opportunity to ask my own. Surprisingly, after the oral part of the interview, there was a written exam to test my capabilities for the position. I was confident that I did well, and afterwards, I was informed that I would be given a conditional offer, depending on whether I passed a security authorization with the government. Thereafter I had to pass many security measures, including a personality questionnaire, reference checks with friends and family, register my fingerprints and conduct a personal security interview with a government agent. It was a very unique experience that I have not encountered in any of my other interviews with previous jobs.

When all of that was finally completed, I began my job with the RCMP. There were a total of three co-op students in our section, and during the first week, we were introduced to all the other employees in our section. I quickly learned about some of the financial aspects that support much of Canada’s police force and saw the numerous processes that are done to ensure the accuracy of the RCMP’s budgeting and forecast. Through working with various senior coworkers, I was able to learn a lot and develop myself at a personal and professional level. 

The Experience

For those who are not used to working in a busy office environment, it may be hard to get used to at first. I sure felt that way. In the beginning, I struggled to learn about the systems, software and terminology that the RCMP used for their operations. Thankfully, the quick training course they provided the co-op students was a good introduction and built a solid foundation on how each piece of software connected to others like a puzzle. Questions were encouraged and the co-op students quickly learned through their mistakes. One good piece of advice that my co-worker told me and I took to heart, mildly paraphrased is: “If you have a work-related question, don’t hesitate to ask! I feel that it is better to clarify any confusion that you might have, even if it is a minor detail, than to potentially make a mistake that is difficult to fix.” This mindset encouraged me to ask questions, which also provided me with a good way to familiarize myself with my coworkers.

It took about two weeks to complete the training course and to have my ID assigned to me. After that, the co-op students started using real documents as opposed to the training sandbox, and we were slowly integrated into the work routines. I began to help our unit maintain databases by entering data into their Salary Forecasting Tool and processed journal vouchers using SAP-based software and Microsoft Excel. I had many questions throughout the days, and my senior coworkers were very helpful in answering them. Soon, I became very efficient at performing my daily workload, and my supervisor introduced us to new tasks and responsibilities. Eventually, we were allowed to adjust our schedules to fit in a “flex” day, where we worked extra hours each day and were rewarded with a day off and a day we could leave early every other week. This schedule really helped to maintain a proper work-life balance, and prevented mental burnout, especially since the long transit between Burnaby and Surrey can get to be stressful.

This job introduced me to many new areas that were not taught in school which I think will be very useful in any future jobs that relates to data management, especially the uses of SAP, Excel Pivot Tables, macros, and Microsoft Access. As I was learning these, my supervisor gave us other intellectually stimulating tasks which helped me familiarize myself with these tools.

During February to April, the whole office began to become busier and busier due to the nearing of our fiscal year end on March 31. At this point in my work term, my workload increased by a lot with reconciliation documents and last-minute journal vouchers to process. All the previous training and experience helped immensely as we managed to clean up our system to a praiseworthy point where it was called “one of the cleanest in years” in a national teleconference.

As the new fiscal year began around May and work started to become very systematic, I had the opportunity to assist other units who were being audited with their paperwork as well. Through this, I was able to work with many other managers and coworkers, and learned the importance of keeping proper and accurate documentation, especially in such a large government entity like the RCMP.  Coincidentally, I also got to become very close with our photocopying machines.

The End
Picture of police equipment in a parking lot

As the time until my contract end date neared, there was not much else to expect. By this time, I became very familiar with some of the processes that our unit performs. It was then that my supervisor introduced me to coding macros with Microsoft Excel. Through perseverance and constant bug testing, I spent the last few weeks with the RCMP creating an easy-to-use macro that I feel will increase the efficiency in the posting of our journal vouchers and make life a little easier for our unit. The days passed peacefully, until one day there was a big Translink failure which left me stranded in Surrey for several hours. It was unexpected because it has been such a long time since such a big malfunction happened with Translink. This was one of the big highlights during my co-op work terms, as not only the SkyTrain broke down, my everyday routine that only consisted of going between work and home did as well.

Another big highlight was when HQ gave the public service employees a tour of the work and equipment that our police officers work with. I got to equip a hardened vest, rifle, pistol and riot shield and explore inside advanced vehicles that the public do not usually get to see. It was a very interesting experience.

Throughout the time I spent with the RCMP, I have learned a number of valuable lessons and developed friendships and relationships with people I would have never had the chance to if I had not seized this opportunity. Working as a financial assistant gave me insight to what life is like in an office environment after finishing an undergrad degree at SFU. I will always cherish the moments that going on this co-op has given me and I look forward to all the other experiences that await me in the future.

SFU Co-op Student
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Oct 2, 2014

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