Preparing future tax professionals for the new normal

The history, accomplishments, and goals of the Young Tax Professionals

By: Patience M., W22, Social Media and Web Associate

Image of Julie RobsonAs the world moves into a new norm, the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) is training future tax professionals who have competitive skillsets, impressive networks, and real-world knowledge of the field of taxation. In 2014, Professors Julie Robson and Jim Barnett founded the Young Tax Professionals (YTP), a for-credit program, that exposes students to the developments and career opportunities in tax. The program also acts as a network that connects students with tax faculty, alumni, and full-time tax professionals.

Under the leadership of the founding professors, the YTP network has grown from 20 to 100 students. In an interview with SAF, Julie Robson, the faculty lead, shed light on their history, challenges, and accomplishments. She gives insight into what the future holds for the program and the activities that students will enjoy if they join.

Q.1 How and why was the Young Tax Professionals program established?

The Young Tax Professionals program was established in 2014 by myself and Jim Barnett, a tax professor and a past Director of the Centre for Taxation in a Global Economy and the School of Accounting and Finance. This education-focused initiative was created to inspire and support students who are interested in a career in taxation by connecting those students with tax faculty, alumni of our program, and other like-minded students. We wanted to expose students to potential career opportunities available in the field of taxation. We also wanted to provide students with a competitive advantage by exposing them to tax expertise beyond what is provided in our undergraduate program.

Q.2 What are some accomplishments and milestones that helped the YTP program grow over the last seven years?

We have had thought-provoking alumni speakers from various tax areas who have inspired our students with their stories and description of career paths in industry, public accounting, government and academic settings in the field of taxation. Speakers have shared their insights on important tax events, legislative developments, and examples of the types of real-life tax-related projects they have contributed to. They have also expressed their views on the future of the tax profession, the impact of technology on the profession and given advice on skills that students will need to be successful in the future. The sessions also provide students with inspiring life and career planning advice in areas like networking, mentorship, and communication skills that are so important for students to recognize and develop. In the past two years, we have also provided YTP students with an opportunity to participate in an in-house Tax Case Competition where students work in groups to write or analyze a case, prepare a written response and related video presentation, and respond to questions from a panel of alumni.

Q.3 What is your vision for the YTP program moving forward? What are your major goals for the program in the next five years?

We have hundreds of alumni from our program with exciting careers in taxation. Our goal is to continue promoting our excellent students to these alumni and their organizations who continue to provide valuable emloyment to our students. The CPA profession is changing, and we will need to adapt our tax courses, our programs and the YTP to meet the challenges those changes will create for tax education. We will work with our YTP students and alumni to continue to support the best academic taxation programs in Canada. In addition to inviting our alumni to speak at our monthly YTP sessions, we will involve our YTP alumni in our annual Tax Educator Conferences and pilot projects to identify deficiencies and strengths in our tax program. We will use their insights and counsel to adjust our approach to teaching tax and educating future tax professionals.

We want to continue to ensure students see the connections between their tax coursework at Waterloo and real-life applications in the YTP meetings, the tax case competition and other experiential learning opportunities.

Q.4 What challenges have the YTP program faced over the years since its establishment? How have those challenges been overcome?

Taxation can be perceived as dull, and I dare say, boring to students completing their undergraduate studies. This is likely because of the compliance focused content of the CPA Competency Map that we must cover in our courses. In the early days of YTP, only 20 to 30 students would apply each year to the program. However, now entry to YTP is quite competitive and our numbers have grown to 50 applicants a year. This is partly attributable to our enthusiastic tax faculty promoting YTP, but I also think it is due to word-of-mouth as students in the YTP program share their experiences with first and second-year students.  Students are starting to see the interesting and dynamic elements and opportunities available in a tax career. We are proud of the demand for the YTP program, despite the fact that SAF students are increasingly exposed to broader career opportunities that may seem more leading edge or exciting than tax.

Q.5 Why should students join the YTP program?

In addition to being exposed to other students and alumni that are interested in tax, students can promote themselves as members of the YTP program by providing tax tips for students, being involved in the tax case competition, preparing online blogs and networking with our alumni and speakers. We also plan at least 2 social events a year where students can network with faculty and other YTP students. The tax community in Canada is small. YTP provides the springboard students can use to start a network of like-minded tax professionals and mentors through connections with other SAF students, alumni and faculty. YTP students can use their network as an important source of future career opportunities.