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Foreign-trained accountants offered path forward

India-born Tomy Devasia graduated with an SAIT accounting certificate last year, setting him up to gain work experience and further education in Canada to qualify for designation as a CPA.

Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

Three Canadian business schools are among 35 recognized globally this year for innovative education practices by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The U.S.-based accrediting body identified schools that are reimagining business education by working with other disciplines on campus, industry partners or community-based organizations. The Canadian schools are the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, here, McGill University and the University of Victoria.

Accountant Tomy Devasia arrived from India with his family in 2015 but lacked the Canadian credentials required to pursue his professional career here.

Settling in Calgary, he worked briefly as a machine operator. But through the Centre for Newcomers, a Calgary-based non-profit that provides career and other support to about 10,000 immigrants and refugees a year, he discovered a pathway to resume work as an accountant.

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As part of a 34-week full-time career skills training program offered by the centre, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology offers a 12-week certificate on the fundamentals of Canadian accounting. The certificate consists of two intermediate-level courses in accounting and one in Canadian taxation recognized by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.

Working with the centre, SAIT introduced the certificate in 2011 for foreign-trained accountants who had left established careers at home to settle in Canada. Over the past six years, 86 students have graduated from the program, with 16 currently enrolled, according to SAIT.

Requiring already-educated professionals to redo their accounting studies here makes no sense, says Janet Segato, SAIT associate dean of business.

"We have a lot of accountants who have degrees and master-level education in accounting from another country and have a high level of knowledge," she says.

What trained newcomers need, she adds, is an introduction to the Canadian workplace, language skills and, in the case of accountants, Canada-specific knowledge about taxation and other financial rules. Mr. Devasia, for example, has a bachelor of commerce and an MBA from universities in India and had worked for 12 years in his home country as an assistant manager in accounts payable and receivable.

Through the education provided by the centre and SAIT, Ms. Segato says foreign-trained newcomers "can start making a contribution to the community much quicker if we can help kick-start their career path in Calgary."

Last August, Mr. Devasia graduated with the SAIT accounting certificate, taught by institute instructors at the newcomer centre. As part of the program, he was placed in a 10-week practicum at HPC Energy Services and was subsequently hired by the company to work in accounts payable and receivable. "It is unbelievable," says Mr. Devasia, now 38, of resuming his professional career. Now he has his eye on the next step – gaining the required work experience (and additional courses where necessary) to qualify for designation as a CPA.

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SAIT's Ms. Segato says the success of the partnership with the centre has prompted her institution to consider a program that would recognize the prior learning credentials of military reservists as they switch to new careers.

"In general we have prior learning and recognition," says Ms. Segato. "But we are working to see how can we recognize formal learning of students in other institutions and also understand the informal learning they might have from their workplace or the experiences they have had."

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