Best jobs in Canada: What to study to land a promising career

What to study to land one of Canada’s 10 best jobs

We crunched the data to find promising careers with big salaries. Here’s what to study to land something lucrative.

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The University of Toronto captured the No. 1 spot on the Maclean’s 2019 program rankings of engineering schools (University of Toronto)

Each year, Canadian Business identifies the most promising careers in the country, based on rates of hiring, median salary and wage growth. How do you get one of these gigs? Read on!

See the full ranking of 100 jobs on Canadian Business.

1. Utilities manager

There is no bachelor’s degree in utilities management. But overseeing the delivery of important services—including water, electricity and heating—does require some type of post-secondary training along with years of service.

Studying business could be a good path to eventually landing a career in utilities management. Deanna Orpen, a manager of distribution, operations and maintenance at SaskPower, began with a business administration diploma from Saskatoon Business College. That education landed her an entry-level job as a customer service representative at Saskatchewan’s electricity provider almost a decade ago. From there, she worked her way up to her current position as a regional manager, based in Swift Current. She now oversees a team of 30 power-line technicians in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan. She’s responsible for setting a strategy to deliver service within budget and ensures all safety and environmental protocols are followed. “It is challenging,” says Orpen. “Lots of our work is urgent and unforeseen. You’re on your toes all the time, trying to address what is going on out in the field.”

While Orpen studied business to get to her current manager job, you could also start with a college-based power engineering course and work your way up. Some more technical roles might also require a degree in engineering. For that, the University of Toronto is top ranked, according to Maclean’s 2019 program rankings. In Orpen’s case, she had an additional nudge toward her chosen career. Both her grandfather and father had long tenures in the sector, in logistics and construction, respectively.

2. Engineering manager

Landing a job as an engineering manager—where you oversee staff and engineering projects—will take at least one engineering degree, years of experience and maybe some business training as well. It is a long road, but one that will net plenty of job opportunities and a median annual salary of $109,000.

READ: The best part-time jobs for students

The first stop is an engineering undergraduate degree. The University of Waterloo is the largest engineering school in Canada and is consistently ranked among the best. (In 2019, it was No. 3, behind Toronto and UBC.) Students applying to Waterloo pick their major immediately. The school offers the usual civil, mechanical and electrical engineering options, but also more niche options in biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. You will need top marks in high school calculus, algebra, physics and chemistry to apply to any engineering school in Canada and a high overall average. Students applying to Waterloo need marks in the high 80s to be competitive, or in the high 90s for majors in nanotechnology, software or biomedical engineering.

Finish that first engineering degree and you will want your P.Eng., a professional engineering licence. To earn one in Ontario, it takes an undergraduate degree, four years of experience working as an engineer and then passing an exam through the Professional Engineers of Ontario. (The process is similar in other provinces.) Still with us? From there, you can continue working as a P.Eng. and apply for manager jobs as they arise. Additional education—say, a master’s in engineering or an M.B.A.—might help you score a manager position sooner.

3. Pipefitting supervisor

This is one of the few jobs on our list that doesn’t require a university or college degree. However, it still takes years of on-the-job training to secure a pipefitting supervisor position. The role involves overseeing the teams that manage the heat, oil and water systems in everything from residential housing to large-scale industrial and commercial facilities. To do that effectively, you will need to qualify in the pipefitting trade through an apprenticeship and certification, probably by applying to a course at a college or polytechnic. The steamfitter-pipefitter apprenticeship program at NAIT in Edmonton, for example, alternates four eight-week class sessions with periods of on-the-job training for a minimum of 1,560 hours (four years). After that, you will need to pass a provincial exam to become a journeyperson. The good news: you get paid during all those apprenticeships and can expect to earn between $35 and $45 per hour once qualified.

After you have the journeyperson certification, it will take experience—most postings ask for a minimum of five years—to apply for a higher-paying supervisor role. While you’re at it, ensure all of your first aid, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) and any other safety training remains current.

Waterloo is one of 10 Canadian universities to house a pharmacy school; admissions are competitive (James Brittain/University of Waterloo)

4. Pharmacist

For Stan Dyjur, the path to his current career as a pharmacy manager at the hospital in Red Deer was circuitous. Dyjur, who is also the current president of the Alberta College of Pharmacy council, always wanted to work in health care. However, moving from his small hometown of Olds, Alta., to Edmonton to study science didn’t go as planned. “I got kicked out of the University of Alberta,” recalls Dyjur. “My grades weren’t good and I just didn’t handle the transition to the big city well.”

Dyjur took college courses to become a personal trainer, slowly finished a biological sciences degree through night classes at Grant MacEwan College (now a university) and U of A. He then added a second degree in nutritional sciences, also from U of A. Armed with top marks and two science degrees, Dyjur was accepted to the U of A pharmacy program in 2006 and graduated in 2010. “It is such a great profession,” he says. “In Alberta, pharmacists have a broad scope of practice. They can prescribe medications, they can administer injections, they can order lab work. There is the flexibility to go in, look at what your community needs, and to meet those needs.”

If you want to be a pharmacist as quickly as possible, it is probably best not to follow Dyjur’s example. You will need to study science at university, take the required undergraduate courses, and perform well. Then, apply to one of the 10 pharmacy schools in Canada (two are French-language). Admissions are competitive. At the University of Alberta, for example, students from within the province need a GPA of 3.5 (out of four) to be considered. Out-of-province students need 3.7 or higher. After getting that degree, which involves a combination of in-class and clinical instruction, you need to pass a board exam through the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada.

5. Public administration director

There is no one path to a career as a senior public administration director, but you will probably need at least a bachelor’s degree in social sciences (political science or economics could be helpful), business, or even a law degree. You’ll combine that education with lots of working experience in the public sector to get there. Considering a career in the federal public service and don’t already speak both official languages? Maybe add a French minor, or some time abroad, to that degree as well.

Schools in Ottawa are a good place to launch a career in the federal public service. Carleton University uses its location in the national capital to support a bachelor of public affairs and policy management. It is a competitive program, requiring a high school average of 83 per cent just to apply. The university’s faculty of public affairs also offers after-degree diplomas and master’s programs in public administration. At the University of Ottawa, the school of public and international affairs offers a master’s degree through the faculty of social science. The M.A. program combines the study of both international affairs and domestic policy. It would be a great asset to someone eyeing a top spot in public administration. You need an undergraduate degree, including some economics prerequisites, to apply.

6. Health care manager

Like other manager jobs on this list, there isn’t a singular educational path to this career. Some health care managers might already be nurses, doctors or other health care professionals who then switch into a management role after years in their field—for example, a nurse who wants a new challenge and, maybe, a more nine-to-five job. If you want to go the nursing route, consider the universities of Alberta or Toronto or UBC, which were the top three nursing programs in the country, respectively, according to the most recent Maclean’s rankings.

However, some schools are starting to recognize the need to train health care managers from the outset, especially as Canada’s population continues to age. Seneca College in Toronto, for example, offers a four-year honours bachelor of health care management degree. The program includes a mandatory work term, meaning students will graduate with real-world experience. At the master’s level, UBC offers a master of health administration degree through its school of population and public health. Meanwhile, McMaster has a master of health care degree, which is open to regulated health professionals—doctors, nurses, dieticians and the like—who want to take on manager roles. The school will also consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree and experience in the health care field.

7. Senior Business manager

Eyeing that corner office? Picking a top-ranked business school for undergraduate studies is probably a good first step. The Maclean’s rankings put UBC’s Sauder School of Business in the No. 1 position. Landing a spot at Sauder—or any top-ranked business program, for that matter—will take strong high school marks and the correct prerequisite courses, usually math and English. At UBC, for example, the grade average for successful applicants coming out of high school and into the business program was more than 90 per cent, according to the school’s 2017-18 enrolment report.

When looking at schools, you may want to consider what kind of business interests you. Sauder, for example, prides itself on incorporating a focus on sustainability, ethics and philanthropy into all its teaching materials. Interested in global trade? York University, ranked No. 3 for business according to Maclean’s, has a specialized international business degree, which includes a mandatory study-abroad period. What about the energy sector? The Haskayne School of Business in Calgary has a specialization in energy and professional land management. Or, consider partnering with Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering for a five-year double degree in business and engineering. Because nothing says C-suite like graduating with two of the most challenging undergraduate degrees.

8. Banking and credit manager

Studying business or economics is probably the best way to land a role managing money at a bank or credit union. When it comes to business schools in Canada, there are plenty of good options. If you are interested in a banking career, a school with a built-in work-term or internship requirement could be helpful to get financial services experience well before graduation.

One option is McMaster in Hamilton. Its DeGroote School of Business is one of the biggest business schools in Canada, with a unique internship option. Students at De­Groote can apply for a 12- or 16-month work term after their third year of study. Compared with internships that last just three or four months, this long placement allows students to earn competitive wages and graduate with an entire year of experience on their resumé. For students who want to try out a few different work options in the financial services industry, Waterloo could be a good choice. At Waterloo, co-op business students alternate four-month study periods with four-month work periods. This would appeal to students wanting to try out different employers and environments before graduation.

Only 450 new veterinary students graduate each year from five vet colleges in Canada: UPEI, Montréal, Guelph, Calgary and Saskatchewan (above) (Photograph by Nayan Sthankiya)

9. Veterinarian

Chris Bell dreamed of being a veterinarian from the time he was a young boy. He had first-hand exposure to the profession while growing up on a horse farm near Airdrie, Alta. “I was always enamoured by the veterinarians who would come out and do the treatments—pull the teeth, vaccinate, sew up horses,” he recalls. Bell started working in a vet clinic during high school and completed a science degree at the University of Saskatchewan. From there, he was accepted in the school’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine. He did an extra residency in surgery before buying his current equine practice in Winnipeg in 2012. All in, it was 10 years of schooling, but it was entirely worth it for Bell. “I never thought I would be able to work with horses on a daily basis and also be remunerated for it,” he says, laughing. “It is a dream come true to be a veterinarian.”

There is no fast track to become a vet. Aspiring vets need top marks during a four-year science undergrad degree before studying for another four years at a vet college. Getting into one of those colleges is highly competitive. There are only five colleges in Canada and they graduate a mere 450 new vets per year, according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. If you want to be part of that elite group, start looking at University of Prince Edward Island, Université de Montréal, Guelph, USask and the University of Calgary. Like medicine, some students who are not admitted to a Canadian school choose to study overseas, including options in the U.S., the Caribbean, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Once you’ve earned a degree, there are many career options—in everything from government to pathology to radiology—especially as Boomer vets retire and look to sell their practices. “Veterinary medicine is wide open and there are so many things you can do with a D.V.M. degree,” says Bell. “It is important to look beyond caring for dogs and cats.”

10. Marketing and public relations manager

To get a job in this field, you can have many educational options: journalism, communications, marketing, public relations—or some combination of those fields—studied at either college or university.

If you go the journalism route, Ryerson boasts one of the top programs in the country, granting both undergrad and master’s degrees in the heart of downtown Toronto. University of King’s College, Carleton, Western and UBC (only at master’s level) are other leading degree-granting journalism schools in Canada. Many of these schools require top marks and a portfolio. So it’s a good idea to get involved with a school newspaper or another writing or media club before applying.

If you want to skip the journalism training and go right into public relations, consider studying at a polytechnic, or another school that offers an applied degree. Hands-on training offered through polytechnic programs, such as the one at Humber’s school of media studies, means students graduate with the skills needed to produce promotional videos, manage social media accounts and come up with a crisis communications plan. Polytechnics are another good option if you already have a more general arts degree and want to specialize. For example, Seneca offers an eight-month graduate certificate in public relations that is recognized by the Canadian Public Relations Society and the International Association of Business Communicators.

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