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The many paths to a career in the public service

The Federal Student Work Experience Program is a way for future public service employees to gain high visibility, especially while working toward a CPA designation (Getty Images / Paul Bradbury)

Many CPAs and future CPAs look to the public sector early in their careers. However, embarking on this path is significantly different from careers in the private sector. For an overview of trends and issues impacting the industry, see the CPA Canada report Public Sector Conference, which runs October 19-21, which features keynote speakers, panel discussions, and live Q&A. To learn more about the different ways to find your way around the area, read on.


For CPA David Lao, Senior Financial Analyst at Transport Canada, his entry point was the Financial Officer Recruitment and Development Program—A national graduate recruitment program administered by the Treasury Board Secretariat for university accounting students.

“It’s a great program because you can switch between different sections and areas of accounting, such as operations, financial policy, internal audit, budgeting, planning and financial systems transformation,” says he.

The application process is rigorous, as it involves an interview and examination before being placed in a qualified pool. Applications start in September / October of each year. Applicants must provide a curriculum vitae, transcripts and proof of education and must also confirm the date of their degree. “Even after receiving a verbal offer, you have to pass a security clearance,” says Lao.

The advantage of this approach is that people have the opportunity to try different types of accounting positions and find out their interests before making a career decision, he says.

Once the candidate is hired, the government will provide training that can be used for the practical experience requirement of the CPA designation. For those who have already received the CPA designation, “departments provide adequate support to ensure that CPAs and financial officers meet their annual professional development requirements with courses provided by CPA Canada,” explains Lao. [The various provincial and territorial CPA bodies also offer professional development options.]


The Federal Student Work Experience Program (PFETE) is another way for college students to determine if a career in the public sector is right for them.

“Departments love to attract new talent through the student transition mechanism,” says Lao. “If you work for them as a student, the team will likely offer you a full-time position after you graduate. Provincial programs, such as Ontario Internship Program, also provide students with the opportunity to explore their options.

The CPA Shannon Nauss, Acting Manager, Community Development in Financial Management, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, started with the PFETE, where she worked in different areas before taking up a full-time position after her graduation. university studies completed.

“Joining the federal public service as a student can provide valuable experience as you work towards earning your CPA designation and can open the door to many future career opportunities,” said Nauss.

She notes that CPAs can work in a variety of areas of finance and accounting, from financial advisory services to operations to program delivery. “Each department has a finance team and a finance director,” she explains. “You don’t have to stay in one position, department or place; there are so many opportunities within one employer. You are not only siled in a finance position either, you can move on to different positions inside and outside of finance. Your career is really what you want to do with it.

Agencies like the Canada Revenue Agency and the Auditor General of Canada also hire many CPAs.

Another option that Lao recommends is the Canadian armed forces. “It offers a less traditional path for many financial officers, but you can have an interesting career as an army accountant, financial services administrator, or logistics officer,” he says. “And they will provide you with what you need to get your CPA.”


To chart a course within the provincial public sector, you can start by looking for opportunities with offices that are pre-approved to train CPAs, like the Auditor General’s office. Provincial CPA organizations are a good resource to learn more about the pre-approved CPA programs available and other experience streams.

“Provincial CPA agencies have lists of pre-approved and monitored programs offered by public sector employers. These also allow students in the CPA program to meet all of their requirements for practical CPA experience, ”explains Martha Jones Denning, associate director of the Public Sector Accounting Board (CCSP).

In particular, Jones Denning notes that “legislative or comptroller’s audit offices can provide a unique and immersive training experience for CPAs wishing to enter the provincial public sector.”


Municipal careers stand out in terms of their approach, says CPA James Sabourin, Senior Treasury Analyst, Risk Management and Systems, for the City of Ottawa, where he leads the financial risk management and compliance processes of the City of Ottawa. cash. He has gained experience in the areas of accounting and financial reporting, financial services and systems, financial planning and treasury.

The main route to a municipal career is through contract work, he explains. “One of the challenges of entering the public service is that a lot of permanent jobs are not posted and seniority often comes into play,” he says. “That’s why a lot of people have to start at the contract level.”

Contracts generally last six months at a time. Sabourin spent a year and a half working on contract before a full-time position arose. “Going from contract to contract has given me a lot of experience to see how the puzzle works from different angles, which has worked to my advantage,” he says.

Unlike the federal and provincial governments, municipal financial operations are centralized under a single ministry, but that doesn’t limit your choices, adds Sabourin. “There are different disciplines you can follow, such as financial reporting, process support for departments, systems development and more. “

For those looking to improve their chances in the municipal sector, in addition to CPA Canada’s Public Sector Certificate program, Sabourin recommends the Association of Municipal Financial Officers of Ontario course offers. “They offer a lot of general training as well as very detailed courses that give you in-depth training in specific areas of municipal finance,” he says.

As at the provincial level, you can also seize opportunities with pre-approved programs in some municipalities, such as the city of Edmonton.


Sabourin is quick to dispel misconceptions about working in the public sector. “People believe that it is difficult to progress or slow down and that it is just a formality. This is simply not true. Having a CPA doesn’t limit you to finance. I have a lot of colleagues in departments like public health. One is leading the charge on pandemic planning, another works in child care and another in community housing. With your CPA, you have the opportunity to step out of purely financial roles and get more into government operations and see how you can make a difference every day.

Another possibility is to volunteer with the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) which provides a platform to implement changes and improvements in government accountability, for the use of public resources.


If you are considering a career in the public sector or want to advance your career in the field, be sure to inquire about CPA Canada’s two-level certificate program for the public sector. And you won’t want to miss the Public Sector Conference to be held from October 19 to 21, 2021. This year’s programming includes high-end speakers, interesting round tables and a range of sessions on the theme of Defend a new reality.


Since the public sector has its own characteristics, it is worth doing some research beforehand. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Bilingualism can be an important asset in the federal sector, especially for those who wish to obtain senior positions.

2. Find out if the school you attend offers co-op programs. If a co-op program is not available, consult the Federal Student Work Experience Program or provincial internship offers.

3. Be prepared for the application process. Some panels will provide a list of questions before an interview, so be sure to prepare your best answers ahead of time and write down the key points. “The more organized your response, the better your chances of getting a higher score on your assessment,” says CPA David Lao, Senior Financial Analyst at Transport Canada.

4. Learn to understand your community. “Networking is very important,” says CPA Shannon Nauss, Acting Manager, Financial Management Community Development, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Government of Canada.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.