In 2020, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians suffered employment loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By December, BC’s unemployment rate sat at 7.2%, which followed on to 8.0% in January.
As many recent graduates and professionals look for opportunities to upskill and transition into new fields, the demand for future-proof careers continues to rise. The finance sector is already one to watch as it’s estimated that BC will create almost 40,000 new accounting jobs by 2029.
This increases the need for chartered professional accountants (CPA), bookkeepers, and myriad other financial positions.
Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for CPAs in BC was almost zero, says Lorena Christensen, CPA, CMA, the Director of Student Recruitment and Employer Relations for CPABC.
“It was an extremely tight labour market if you were looking for CPAs. Most of the CPAs that wanted to be working were already employed pre-COVID,” Christensen tells Daily Hive.
“We know from some of our own member data that at the outset of the pandemic a very small percentage of our members lost their employment due to COVID when compared to many other workers, and the government considered accounting an essential service.”
The pandemic has affected Canada’s economy overall and the employment landscape. But another factor contributing to the demand for CPAs, Christensen says, is the changing demographics with aging populations in Canada’s workforce.
“We’ve got the baby boomer generation that’s on the cusp of retirement. There’s a balloon of CPAs that are getting ready to retire,” she says. “I know of some personally who have kept working longer than what they had originally intended to because there is still so much demand for their services and skills.”
Christensen explains how the role of the CPA is changing. It’s diverse in terms of the types of positions that CPAs have and the industries they work in. “A lot of people assume that CPAs do taxes, are financial auditors and maybe controllers or they’re working in consultancy for a large firm.
“The reality is that, yes, a certain amount of our members work in those areas, and those are very important roles for CPAs. But by far, the majority of CPAs are working in industry, or they’re working in academia or government, they’re entrepreneurs and so forth.”
But the nice thing about being a CPA, Christensen says, is that you’re working across the whole spectrum, and it’s more about the skillset that you have versus the industry itself. This, she explains, enables CPAs to move with the ebbs and flows of what’s happening in the economy.
With AI and automation technologies taking over the more repetitive aspects of accountancy, Christensen says CPAs now have more time in their workday to focus on the larger picture, strategic tasks that are “more important” than ever.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a recession-proof career,” says Christensen. But with a CPA designation, you’re not “married to any particular industry or type of work.”
The respected credential, she says, is globally recognized. “It allows you to get your foot in the door where others might not be able to, paired with the fact that you can basically move anywhere.”
To pursue a CPA designation, you need to have an undergraduate degree, but Christensen says it doesn’t have to be in accounting — it can be in any discipline. “Then, there are 14 prerequisites. And depending on what your degree is in, it would count towards at least some of those pre-reqs.”
Once you get into the program, there’s an education component offered through the CPA Western School of Business, an exam component, and an experience component — each of which can be completed at your own pace.
A big differentiator, Christensen says, is that the whole program is designed so that you’re working full-time and studying part-time.
You can complete the education component before the experience component or vice versa, and then you have the exam. “You just need to be able to check off all three of those before you apply to become a designated member in the province,” she says.
This allows students to work full-time and pay for their tuition as they go. “A lot of our candidates get support from their employers either financially or towards tuition or time off to study.”
Christensen says, from experience, that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of post-secondary, it’s never too late to become a CPA.
She started her career in forestry as a lumber trader. After a decade, she went back to school to get her MBA and CPA concurrently. From there, she went into academia and post-secondary recruitment and employer relations.
“If you can merge data analytics with your accounting education and your financial education, I think that’s going to be the job of the future for CPAs,” she adds.
To learn more about the process of getting a CPA designation and to apply, visit bccpa.ca.