Median Salary: $77,875
Change in salary (2007–2013): +20%
Total employees: 14,100
Government program officers run the backbone organizations of Canadian democracy. They manage the House of Commons and the provincial legislatures. They run elections. They serve on tribunals and staff Canadian embassies all over the world, as well as looking after aboriginal land claims and intergovernmental affairs.
How to qualify: Like most civil services positions, an undergraduate degree—in anything from economics or politics to health sciences and engineering—is a bare minimum requirement. At the federal level it helps (and is often essential) to be bilingual. And for diplomats, a third or even fourth language can help. To move up the ladder, a graduate degree might be necessary. For top-level government program officers, meanwhile, a PhD isn’t required, but it’s not unusual either.
Money: Depending on the department and location, junior program officers usually start out in the range of $60,000 a year. At the higher level, though, salaries can be impressive, ranging from the low to mid six figures, with solid benefits and a generous pension.
Outlook: The number of program officers surged in Canada over the last five years, climbing a whopping 71% between 2008 and 2013. Don’t expect that to continue. By 2020, job growth in the sector should have slowed to the point where there are more people looking for work in the field than there are jobs to be filled.
What it’s like: Colin Robertson spent three decades in the Canadian foreign service, working as a diplomat in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Washington and spending time at home in Canada on projects including the patriation of the Canadian constitution and the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. For him, the variety of the work sticks out most. “I had 25 jobs in 32 years,” Robertson says. In Hong Kong, he helped manage a massive flow of would-be immigrants hoping to make it to Canada before the territory was handed back to the Chinese. In L.A., he worked on a successful lobbying campaign that helped earn the Canadian film Les Invasions Barbares an Oscar for best foreign-language film. To those considering a career in diplomacy Robertson says: “You have to have a love of adventure. You have to be curious. You have to be prepared to work under sometimes difficult circumstances.” The job can be tough on families. “It can be difficult sometimes for a spouse to work in other countries,” he says. But on the whole he considers it a noble way to serve a country and spend a life. “For me, it was a tremendous career,” he says. “It opened all sorts of doors.”