e surveyed hundreds of occupations tracked by Statistics Canada, and identified the 50 best-paying, highest-demand career choices today. If you already have one of these jobs, you’ll want to hold on to it like grim death, and start strategizing how you can rise through the ranks and maximize your earning potential. If you don’t, and aren’t thrilled with the one you do have, it may be time to consider a career change—despite the stress, retraining and income disruption such decisions invariably entail.
There are myriad paths to higher earnings, but the surest one these days leads through Alberta. The No. 1 job on our list is petroleum engineer: the person who figures out how to get the oil out of the oilsands. This is both the fastest-growing occupation in Canada, with employment increasing by 85% between 2006 and 2011, and the second-highest in pay. Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise, given that the oilpatch is far and away Canada’s largest driver of employment and economic activity. And the people it employs face a challenging mission. “Canada’s oilsands and natural gas fields are both considered unconventional resources, which means they require more knowledge and skill to exploit than traditional fossil fuels,” says Cheryl Knight, executive director of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada. “That’s why petroleum engineers are in such demand and are paid so well.”
They aren’t the only ones making a killing off the black sticky stuff. Our list contains many other professions that feed off, and into, oilsands development, from chemical and civil engineers to environmental and occupational safety inspectors.
Another group in hot demand out west, as elsewhere across the country, is construction managers. “There’s a chronic shortage of construction trade workers throughout Canada,” says Carleton University labour-market specialist Linda Duxbury. “The baby boomers for decades have been pushing their kids into universities instead of colleges, and the construction industry has treated the apprenticeship programs shamefully. They only want to hire people who already have their papers; they don’t want to pay to train them.”
Interestingly, none of the jobs in the Top 10 on our list rank first in either median wage or five-year wage growth. The best-paying job category on our list, with a median income of $93,600, belongs to pharmacists, thanks to a combination of high educational requirements and a persistent shortage that drives up salaries. “Pharmacists now have to go through five years of university training, and entry into schools of pharmacy is highly competitive,” notes Jeff Poston, executive director of the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Only a small fraction of applicants get in, he says, and many of those already have degrees in related fields like health sciences. That said, wages for pharmacists may already have peaked, as the supply bottleneck eases. “Three or four years ago there was a bit of a crisis, with a shortage of pharmacists, but that’s starting to correct after universities increased their intake of pharmacy students, and a new pharmacy school opened at Waterloo, [Ont.]” says Poston.
The fastest-growing wage, meanwhile, belongs to librarians, whose salaries have increased on average by 39% over the past five years, due, in part, to the changing nature of their work. “It’s no longer a sweet old lady pushing a trolley of books,” notes Duxbury. “It’s information and data management. It’s knowledge-based.”
Karen Adams, president of the executive council for the Canadian Libraries Association, says she’s pleasantly surprised her steadfastly pink-collar profession tops the list of fastest-growing earners. “Librarians are mostly women, and it’s nice to see them finally catching up in terms of pay,” she says, adding that it’s a great time to get into the library information sciences. “A lot of university libraries were built during the baby boom, and that cohort is now retiring, so there’s lots of opportunity. There’s also more work outside traditional libraries, in areas like health care and as part of research teams. The skills are very portable.” –Mark Anderson