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Joining the pros at CPA Ontario: The journey to chartered professional accounting

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Today, Joshua Jackson, CPA, CA, is a senior administrator for Corporate Financial Recovery Services at BDO Canada, providing cost-effective and constructive solutions for troubled companies.

But Joshua set out on a long and winding road to his accounting career that, for much of the journey, didn't involve numbers at all.

Before accounting

Initially studying kinesiology and biology at York University, Joshua ended his first post-secondary stint with a degree in psychology. He also had an itch to get involved in university sports and played football for the York Lions.

Beyond his interest in school and sports, Joshua admits he's always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He connected with a colleague and put his entrepreneurial wits to work. A friend and I wrote a couple of business plans and were taking some shots at funding; nothing really had landed, he explains.

But in his final year at York after moving abroad to teach and study, he received the good news. "We received funding for one of our business proposals, which was a really small real estate, private equity-type of company."

Joshua packed his bags and moved to start his businesses in Eastern Europe. It wasn't until the US economic crisis that he learned a harsh lesson in business and accounting.

"Due to a lack of fundamental understanding of accounting principles and some bad luck, I was back in Canada," he says.

At a crossroads, Joshua decided to take a friend's advice from years prior: Pursue the recognized and respected accounting designation. "I didn't want to take out another loan for law school," he says, explaining that business law was his original backup plan. "It just seemed like the best bet was to go back and (get an accounting designation) to get into business."

Taking the necessary courses at the University of Ottawa, Joshua represented his school on the CPA Ontario Board of Associates and was well on his way to his first designation.

Becoming a CPA

The road to a CPA takes a number of different steps over an approximately 36-month long timeframe. "There's the school requirement, the hours requirement and then the examinations," says Joshua, who achieved the CPA designation in December 2014.

"Once you take the required courses, then you need to get experience at an accounting firm or an approved training office for the hours requirement," he says. Completing his hours with Big Four firm PwC, Joshua explains that the company excelled at walking him through the steps he needed to succeed in the industry.

The final step was the testing. "We had to write the Core Knowledge Exam, the School of Accountancy exam and the Uniform Final Examination. The final requirement is 30 months of billable time, not including the time you need to take off for studying."

Advice for aspiring CPAs

"For me, I think it's always best to lay out a plan," says Joshua, adding that aspiring CPAs must understand that goals may be adjusted, but having a one-year, five-year, and 10-year plan is important.

"You take a step back in both pay and responsibilities to go back to school and come into an organization in an entry-level position—it's humbling."

Already sporting two accounting designations, Joshua is now working to achieve the CIRP designation to become a chartered insolvency and restructuring professional.

Photo: luxizeng/Thinkstock