Best Jobs

Canada's Best Jobs: What you need to study to land a great gig

Want a job with the best pay, the most opportunity and the brightest outlook? Here's how to plan a career in some of the country's hottest industries

Each year, Canadian Business uses a proprietary formula and publicly available data from Statistics Canada and Employment & Social Development Canada to rank the jobs with the highest salaries, strongest job growth, and best long-term hiring momentum in the country. But what does it take to actually score one of these gigs? Here’s some advice on landing one the best ten jobs in the country.

10. Elevator mechanic

Elevator mechanics, like most other skilled tradespeople in Canada, learn their skills through a paid apprenticeship. Apprentices spend the majority of their time shadowing a fully qualified professional or “journeyperson” on the job, and supplement their practical learning with classroom studies at a union training centre or college campus.

As an apprentice, you will earn some portion of a journeyperson’s salary, depending on your experience—typically, first-year apprentices make half the hourly rate of a fully licensed elevator mechanic. It takes four years to complete an elevator mechanic apprenticeship and qualify for certification.

Before you can register as an apprentice in your province, you must get hired by an elevator company willing to sponsor you. Since the field is highly competitive, getting a job straight out of high school can be difficult. Some companies prefer to hire people with experience in other trades, like electricians, millwrights, and automotive mechanics.

The qualifications you need to secure an apprenticeship depend largely on the hiring climate in your region, so it’s worth investigating the options in your province. For example, if you’re still in high school, you may be able to take technical courses or enter a special program designed to advance your suitability for apprenticeship. If you’re an adult looking to change careers, taking courses in a technical field can improve your eligibility.

Most elevator mechanics in Canada are trained at the Canadian Elevator Industry Educational Program, a union-affiliated program with 25 locations across the country. Elevator construction and repair is a heavily unionized trade.

Ontario’s Durham College is the only public elevator mechanic training provider in the country. Just this year, Durham opened a two-year Mechanical Technician-Elevating Devices diploma program. This is a pre-apprenticeship program designed to give students a foundation of technical knowledge, as well as a competitive edge when applying for apprenticeships. If you complete this program and decide that apprenticeship isn’t for you, you can also apply for a sales or inspection job in the field.

9. Lawyer

To become a lawyer, you need to complete a bachelor’s degree, take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), go to law school, and finally, pass your province’s Bar exam and spend a year articling (training under the supervision of a lawyer). Canada is home to some of the world’s best law schools—the University of Toronto, McGill, the University of British Columbia, and Osgoode Hall are frequently cited in national and international rankings.

U of T is considered Canada’s most prestigious law school. It boasts impressive post-graduate employment rates and a large pool of notable alumni, including Nobel laureates and Prime Ministers. The downside? Strict admission standards—the median admission GPA is 3.85—and the most expensive law school tuition in the country. Fees for the 2017-2018 year vary between $36,390 and $48,992 depending on a year of study and whether an individual is a foreign or domestic student.

The oldest law school in Canada, McGill, ranks just under U of T. Its highly regarded law journal is cited by The Supreme Court of Canada more often than any other university-affiliated journal, and McGill law graduates regularly make up a quarter of The Supreme Court’s annual clerkships.

If you’re looking for a scenic place to study law, consider the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC, ranked third in Canada by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), an international education firm. Situated at the northern tip of UBC’S Vancouver campus, you’ll study law with a view of mountains, forests, and the Pacific Ocean.

Most of Canada uses a common law system, where judges’ decisions in important cases are the first source of law, as opposed to civil law, which relies heavily on fixed codes and statutes. Quebec uses a hybrid system comprised of both common and civil law. If you want to practice civil law, you need to study in Quebec (for instance, McGill law students graduate with a degree in each system), or at the University of Ottawa.

Remember that graduating from a prestigious program won’t necessarily guarantee you a spot at an elite firm. Consider cost, location, and strength in the particular area of law you’re interested in before deciding to apply.

8. Economic Development Director

Economic development directors are expert strategists who work to enhance the economic conditions in a city, town, or region. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in public administration, economics, business administration, commerce, or marketing, followed by several years of experience working as an economist or a researcher—ideally in a senior management role. To get promoted, you need to prove that you can forge sturdy business relationships and manage a team.

Holding a certified economic developer (Ec. D.) designation from the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC) is increasingly becoming a requirement for economic development jobs in Canada. To write the certification exam, you need to have a certain number of points under EDAC’s qualification system.

Points are awarded for having relevant undergraduate and graduate degrees, completing specific training programs, and attending economic development conferences. You also need to be a member of EDAC and have a minimum of three years experience working in the field. The universities of Waterloo, Sherbrooke, and Calgary each have EDAC-accredited training programs designed to earn students points towards qualifying for the exam.

That said, certain programs allow you to write the Ec. D exam with only one year of work experience. These include the University of Waterloo’s graduate program in Local Economic Development and Cape Breton University’s MBA in Community Economic Development. Both programs are available on a full and part-time basis, and require applicants to have an undergraduate degree.

Cape Breton University’s MBA is a good choice if you’re looking for a flexible delivery option— it’s offered in six locations across Canada. It also has a non-traditional admissions category for prospective students who have extensive experience in management but no undergraduate degree. To qualify for this category, you will need great references and a convincing personal essay about your suitability for the program, among other things.

7. Real Estate and Financial Manager

Real estate and financial managers oversee the operations of real estate and finance firms. They broker mortgages, trade commodities, and take charge of business development for real estate and financial departments. Business savvy and the ability to make sure teams meet performance objectives is a must.

As with any managerial position, this isn’t an entry-level gig. Many jobs ask for at least five years experience within the industry, as well as the relevant professional licenses to sell products in regulated industries like real estate and finance. To get your foot in the door, you’ll need a university degree in a related field, like business administration or economics.

The Schulich School of Business at York University is a solid choice for those with a travel bug. Its Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program offers students the chance to study abroad for a semester, with partners schools in a diverse set of locations, including Vienna, St. Petersburg, Seoul, Bangkok, and Mexico City. It’s a full-time, four-year program delivered on campus, with an impressive global network and high-ranking faculty members.

For a well-rounded foundation, consider McGill’s Joint Honours program in Economics and Finance. It’s intended to give graduates a solid background in both economics and finance, and like Schulich, has a vast network of partner schools you can opt to study abroad in. This is a competitive program, requiring students to maintain a 3.00 GPA to graduate.

If you have a tight schedule or travel restrictions, you can always earn a BBA online. Laurentian University offers an online BBA degree, but you need to have some post-secondary education in business to get in. If you have a college diploma in business and want to upgrade to a BBA, Laurentian will let you fast-track your degree.

Telecommunications Manager


6. Telecommunications Manager

Managers of telecommunications carriers need to have a solid working knowledge of the systems they look after, since the role consists of much more than managing personnel. They’re responsible for keeping their company’s activities in line with government regulations, directing the flow of telecommunications traffic, and other similarly technical work.

To start out, you’ll need a university degree in science, electrical engineering, or a related field. Getting promoted to management involves several years of experience in a technical profession—ideally in a supervisory role. You’ll need to demonstrate that you not only have the specialized knowledge for the job, but can lead a team and act autonomously.

The University of Waterloo has one of the highest ranked engineering programs in the country. Accordingly, it’s one of the most competitive. To get into the electrical engineering program, you’ll need high school grades in the mid-80s and advanced mathematics and science credits on your transcript. You can apply to this program directly from high school.

As of yet, there are no fully online electrical engineering programs in Canada, but some offer students the ability to work while they learn. Waterloo has one of the largest post-secondary co-op programs in the country, and its electrical engineering program includes a 2-year paid co-op portion. 96% of Waterloo’s co-op grads work in fields related to their program, which is 17% higher than the national average. With 6,900 employers associated with the school—more than any other university in Canada—there’s a good chance you’ll find a spot.

The University of Alberta is another one of Canada’s best engineering schools. Its electrical engineering program offers a unique specialization in nanoengineering, which (depending on whom you ask) may be the future of telecommunications. Unlike Waterloo’s program, you can’t apply directly from high school—this program requires students to take a qualifying first year before specializing.

5. Utilities Manager

Utilities managers oversee the operations of plants and distribution systems in areas like water, natural gas, and nuclear power. Becoming a manager in the utility industry is largely a matter of climbing the ladder to a supervisory role. You have to prove that you have the relevant technical knowledge and skills, as well as the ability to work at the helm a team.

To start, you’ll need a degree or diploma in a related field—electrical engineering for transmission lines, oil and gas engineering for natural gas, and so on. Then, you’ll need to get hired to a utilities operations department and work up to a supervisory role. From there, you’ll spend several years proving your managerial capabilities before you can become a full-fledged utilities manager.

Keep in mind that utilities manager in natural gas, electrical power, or heating oil, must be certified as professional engineers (P.Eng.), which is more than just having an engineering degree. The qualifications for this certification vary based on the province or territory, but generally, you need to have an engineering degree, a certain amount of work experience, and to have passed a professional ethics exam.

The University of Toronto’s engineering program consistently ranks as the best in the country. It allows you to specialize in one of eight core programs, including electrical and civil engineering. U of T also offers a unique engineering science stream. This enriched program focuses on high-level fundamentals in everything from math to the humanities in its first two years, followed by an accelerated, discipline-specific engineering science major. Of particular interest to prospective utilities managers, energy systems engineering is one of the majors on offer.

Pipefitting supervisor


4. Pipefitting Supervisor

Pipefitting supervisors coordinate teams, monitor work safety, train or arrange for the training of apprentices, and order materials, among other duties. To become a pipefitting supervisor, you have to work as a fully qualified pipefitter, or journeyperson, for several years. Getting promoted to a supervisory role means demonstrating exceptional leadership skills—but like any tradesperson, you have to start at the bottom.

Before you earn the title of journeyperson, you have to work as an apprentice, which means getting hired by a company willing to train you and registering with the appropriate regulatory body in your province or territory. You’ll get paid a percentage of a journeyperson’s hourly rate while you learn, commensurate with your experience.

Apprenticeships consist mostly of hands-on training under the supervision of a fully qualified pipefitter, along with a theoretical portion you’ll complete at a college or union training centre. You can get hired straight out of high school, depending on how competitive the market is in your region, or opt for a pre-apprenticeship training program.

If you’re in high school, it’s a good idea to take math and science courses into your final year, since pipefitting is a complex, analytical trade. Look into options in your region—you may be able to take specialized courses in high school that enhance your eligibility for apprenticeship. Adults looking to change careers can better their prospects with technical courses, like George Brown’s Mathematics for Plumbers and Pipefitters.

Some college programs can count for credit towards an apprenticeship, like Eastern College’s 32-week Steamfitter/Pipefitter diploma program. It includes a 160-hour work placement, which graduates can use towards apprenticeship hours if they get hired. Graduates are eligible to write the Apprentice Level I exam.

Before choosing a route towards apprenticeship, be sure to investigate the hiring climate in your region, and look for a company with room for advancement if your goal is working up to pipefitting supervisor.

3. Mining and Forestry Manager

If you can take charge of a team and like to work outside, you may make a good mining or forestry manager. These managers oversee the operations of mines, lumber mills, or fisheries. Most managerial positions in the natural resource sector require you to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field—such as engineering or earth sciences for mining or forestry for lumber mills. From there, it can take upwards of ten years to work up to a management role.

Some management jobs in mining require applicants to have a Professional Engineering (PEng) designation, for which you need an engineering degree. As for forestry, most provinces require people who work on public land to be certified as Registered Professional Foresters (RPF). To be eligible for the RPF designation, you need a bachelor’s of science in forestry (BSF).

The University of British Columbia’s BSF is ranked highest in the country by QS. It gives students the option to major in either Forest Operations or Forest Resources Management, which you can easily switch between in your first year. Both majors give students access to two research forests, including the nearby 5,157-hectare Malcolm Knapff Research Forest. This forest is home to some 400-year old trees, and is close enough to campus for field trips and project work. You would be wise to opt into a minor in commerce if you want to become a forestry manager—it’s encouraged for students who want a strong foundation in business and management alongside their forestry knowledge.

If mining is more your speed, consider the geological engineering and geological sciences programs at Queen’s, rated the best place in the country to study Geology by Maclean’s in 2017. The geological engineering program can lead to a Professional Engineering (P.Eng.) designation, which would come in handy when you apply for jobs in the mining sector.

2. Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional qualifications and responsibilities, which fall somewhere between those of a doctor and a nurse. Like an MD, they can diagnose and treat patients independently, prescribe medications, and order medical tests, all while maintaining the focus on attentive patient care typical of a nurse.

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a great deal of education and experience. You’ll need a Bachelor’s of Science degree in nursing and several years of experience working as a registered nurse. Usually, you’ll also need a graduate degree in nursing.

Each province has its own regulatory body for nurse practitioners, which provides certification in the form of a written exam. When you’re deciding where to study, keep in mind that the role of nurse practitioners differs somewhat depending on the region—for instance, Quebec nurse practitioners tend to focus more on acute care than those in Ontario.

Many graduate programs in nursing require you to have several years of experience working as a registered nurse before applying, with some exceptions for advanced entry based on GPA.

The M.N. Nurse Practitioner program at the University of British Columbia, home to one of the top ranked undergraduate nursing programs in the country, requires applicants to have at least three years of clinical experience and a well-demonstrated ability to act autonomously—a critical skill for primary care practitioners.

Maclean’s ranked the University of Toronto’s undergraduate nursing program the best in the country in 2017. In Ontario, nurse practitioners focus on one of three areas: Adult, Paediatric, or Primary Health Care — Global Health. U of T’s Master’s of Nursing, Nurse Practitioner program reflects these specializations. Since the program is mostly delivered online, with some on-campus residency periods, it’s accessible to students across the country. To get in, you need to be a registered nurse with a nursing degree and at least two years of clinical experience.

1. Public Administration Director

Public administration directors, some of the highest paid government workers, oversee the implementation of public policies and programs. Getting into the field is largely a matter of working your way up, though a graduate degree can go a long way in putting you ahead of the game.

You’ll need a university degree, preferably in a related field like business administration, law, or social science. Some universities also offer a bachelor’s of public administration (BPA), like York University, which allows students to specialize in management, policy analysis, or law, justice, and public policy. Before you can oversee the implementation of public policy, you have to get your feet wet by getting hired into the field of public administration and working directly with policy issues.

Looking to study abroad? The University of Toronto Master’s of Public Policy (MPP) program allows second-year students to spend a semester at leading partner schools, like the Paris School of International Affairs, the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. More locally, students of this program participate in mandatory summer policy internships between their first and second year. Past interns have worked at the municipal, provincial, and federal level—besides the valuable research experience, these positions are a serious networking opportunity.

Getting into U of T’s MPP program is competitive—you’ll need a minimum 3.3 GPA in your Bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, a resume with relevant experience, and a convincing statement of purpose. If you’re dedicated enough to get into U of T’s MPP program as well as their JD program (law school), you can combine the degrees and complete them simultaneously for a well-rounded law and public policy education.