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Moving to Where the Work Is Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit


I have been looking for decent work since January of this year. All I seem to get are offers for contract positions that don't pay benefits and last maybe six months to a year, or else I am told that my skills just aren't in high enough demand here to justify paying me what I'm worth. Does this happen a lot in Canada? Do you think I should move to another province where the chances of finding employment are higher? I have a background in accounts receivable, a solid track record, and am married with two teenage children.

Donald M., St. John's, Newfoundland
Dear Donald,

Currently in Canada there exists a heightened sense of employment imbalance between a number of cities and provinces across the country. For example, while the national unemployment rate was 6.1% overall in May 2008, here's how it breaks down in selected regions:

3.6% Alberta
4.1% Saskatchewan
6.4% Ontario
7.5% Quebec
12.5% Newfoundland and Labrador

Theoretically then it should be easier to find work in, say, Calgary, Alberta, than in Mt. Pearl, Newfoundland. However before you list your home for sale, pull the kids out of school, and uproot yourself to march halfway across the country, there are many things you can do to decide if this is your best available option.

For instance, while you may indeed earn less in your current city than you might be paid in Edmonton or Regina, where demand for workers is high right now, you will want to factor in the ''total cost of living.'' This means taking into account such things as rent or mortgage payments, local tax breaks, and other financial variables. According to the website, a standard two story detached house costs, on average, $301,000 in Montreal, but in Vancouver that same type of home is worth an eye-popping $649,000. Quite a difference. You can also compare salaries in various cities and towns in Canada using the Workopolis Salary Calculator.

Some important non-financial factors to consider are such things as:
  • Will your children adapt well to leaving behind friends and family if you move distantly?
  • Are the places you are considering moving to hiring people with your skills and background? (e.g. it may not help you to trek out to Ft. McMurray, Alberta - also known as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo - where unemployment is exceptionally low though because of the Tar Sands, they are hiring primarily for oil and gas related jobs).
  • What are the schools like in your potential communities? Are the neighborhoods as friendly and peaceful as your current one?
  • Is the pace of your selected destinations within keeping with your own sustainable pace of living and working?

To learn more about each region you are thinking of moving to, you can start with the City Guides, or the CanadaPlus City Sites. You can also investigate local chambers of commerce and boards of trade, via the Canadian Chamber of Commerce site. There you can find out more about the types of employers who are in each vicinity.

Also before you make a spontaneous voyage with family in tow, it's a good idea to check out the prospects for work in your particular field. A quick search of's job listings, as well as those on related job banks, will give you an initial gut check of what's out there, and maybe even reveal how much employers are paying. It will also give you a glimmer of which personnel firms and recruiting agencies are posting positions. You might want to speak to a few of these while you are still ensconced in your current circumstances, to learn more about local situations and your marketability.

No doubt there are times when it is essential to move where the work is. For instance, when you live in a small town and the major employer suddenly pulls up stakes or when you find yourself competing with so many other job applicants that you just cannot break through the clutter. Such are the necessities of a cyclical economy like the one we have in Canada (remember when oil was at $20 a barrel in the late 1980s, instead of near $140 today?)

In those cases where you are voluntarily relocating and can take your time to explore your alternatives, you give yourself the highest likelihood of making a successful transition. Just remember to calculate the total cost of the transaction, including not just money but also of cutting emotional ties and adapting to new styles of living.


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