Experience soon to be part of CPA’s PCP certification

Beginning next year, students wishing to obtain a PCP will have to get hands-on payroll experience

Experience in payroll is soon going to be a requirement for anyone wishing to obtain the Canadian Payroll Association’s (CPA) Payroll Compliance Practitioner (PCP) certification.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, individuals pursuing a PCP will need to have at least one year of experience involving "paying employees accurately, on time and in compliance with legislation while contributing to the annual payroll cycle" before they can be certified.

They can obtain the experience within five years before or five years after starting the association’s Payroll Compliance Legislation course, which is the first core payroll course required for the certification.

Steven Van Alstine, vice-president of education at the CPA, says the new requirement has applicants show they have hands-on experience to do payroll.

"We want to ensure that they have the skill set to run the annual payroll cycle for an organization. That involves making the remittances, doing the year-end reporting and processing the payroll on a period-by-period basis."

The new experience requirement will improve the quality of students graduating from the PCP program and show employers individuals with a PCP certificate have both the education and experience to work without needing a lot of training, he adds.

"We have an education advisory council. What we worked with them on last summer was to talk about a lot of other professional bodies having experience requirements as part of their certification programs or designatory programs."

The CPA will apply a weighting factor to the one-year experience requirement in recognition of the fact many people who work in payroll spend their workday on other tasks as well.

"Research (the CPA has done) shows that a lot of individuals may be doing payroll only part of the time. About 45 per cent of the organizations say that payroll is done by one person in the organization and they may also have other roles. They may be doing accounts payable, accounts receivable, office management responsibilities, that sort of thing," Van Alstine says.

"We want to ensure that a person is doing payroll all the time in order to get this one year requirement. For example, if somebody does payroll only a portion of the time then there’s a calculation to show that they have got the one-year experience requirement that we are looking for. If somebody only touches on that once a week, it really isn’t a good demonstration that they would have a one-year experience requirement."

The weighting factor will be based on the number of hours a week an individual is doing payroll tasks. Based on a 35-hour work week, the CPA uses the following example to show how the weighting factor will work:

If an individual spends 20 of the 35 hours a week on payroll-related tasks and he or she has been in the position for 16 months, the individual would have nine months of payroll experience (20/35 x 16 = 9.14). The CPA will count only completed months, with no fractions, decimals or rounding permitted.

The experience component may be new for the PCP, but a similar one has been in place for the Certified Payroll Manager (CPM) program since 2011. It has been well received by businesses, students and instructors, he says.

A key difference between the two experience requirements is the one for the PCP is needed to graduate the program, while the one for the CPM is a prerequisite for enrolling in that program. New students registering for the CPM must have a minimum of two years of experience being responsible for an organization’s payroll function. Applicants must have obtained the experience within the past five years.

The beginning of the timeframe for obtaining the experience requirement will depend on whether students are taking the PCP part time or full time.

"For the part-time student, the clock starts ticking from the point at which they take their first payroll compliance legislation course. As soon as they start that course, they have a five-year window in which to complete the academic requirements and the one-year weighted experience requirement," Van Alstine says.

"Quite often individuals who are doing it part time are working as well, so they have an opportunity to get that experience. The students that are in full-time study don’t have as much of an opportunity to be working in the payroll field, so their clock starts ticking when they finish the last payroll course, which is Payroll Fundamentals 2."

Individuals who completed the education requirements (or who will before the end of the year), but have not yet applied for their Certification Declaration must do so by the end of December or will be required to meet the new experience requirement. The Certification Declaration essentially confirms the individual understands the ongoing requirements for obtaining and maintaining certification with the association.

Individuals who already have their PCP will not be affected by the new requirement, provided they maintain their certification. Van Alstine says last year, 2,000 individuals obtained a PCP certification.

He says the CPA is preparing an application process and guidelines for the new requirement, using the CPM application process as a model.

The PCP and CPM experience components are part of changes the CPA is making to enhance its program. In 2013, it raised the pass mark for the programs’ courses from 60 per cent to 65.

Van Alstine says the association is also considering implementing a final, comprehensive exam for students. Currently, the association requires exams for each course, but does not have one exam that covers all of the course content together.

He adds a comprehensive exam would be another way to ensure graduates fully understand the payroll process. He notes some testing the CPA did a couple of years ago on recently certified graduates showed some did not retain the knowledge they learned in the payroll courses.

Van Alstine says this was particularly the case for individuals who took the PCP courses through private career colleges rather than public post-secondary institutions or online through the CPA. At the private career colleges, students study a payroll course intensely for four weeks, compared with 13 weeks for those taking it online or 14 weeks for those enrolled at public post-secondary institutions.

"Their ability to retain the knowledge, I think, is impacted by the speed with which they are learning all of this curriculum," he says, adding educational consultants who studied the issue said the duration of the courses was not a determining factor of success, but did have an impact.

Van Alstine notes students in the career colleges may also have been hampered by the fact they were much less likely to have actual payroll experience than those who took the courses on a part-time basis online through the CPA or through a public post-secondary institution.

Adding the experience component to the certification process is one way to ensure that all graduates have the necessary payroll skills, he says.

"We are trying to take these steps to ensure that when people are saying that ‘I’ve got my PCP’ it stands for something. So we are trying to raise the pass mark, we are trying to put this experience requirement in. And then I think the final step is going to be a comprehensive exam where they are tested on the full body of knowledge."

More information about the CPA’s certification process is available at:


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