The Grass Isn't Always Greener: Job Opportunities in Northern Ontario

January 30, 2017 - “The grass is always greener,” is a sentiment echoed by many northerners in regards to employment opportunities and salaries in the region. Many young workers have their eyes set on Southern Ontario in the hopes of finding a job with high wages, leaving the north behind for greener pastures.

With trends such as youth out-migration and an aging population occurring across Northern Ontario, there are invariably, in certain occupations, many job vacancies to go along with them.

But what is on the other side of the fence? Statistics Canada’s Job Vacancy and Wage Survey, which quarterly tracks job vacancies and the average wages offered, demonstrates that the grass isn’t always greener. Data from this survey dispels some of our common, not to mention unfounded, notions that Northern Ontario is bad for job-seekers.

For the sake of our analysis, the quarterly data from Statistics Canada in 2015 was combined and made into yearly averages. This included the average offered wage for vacant positions in each National Occupation Classification (NOC), which were compared at the regional level. As well, the proportions of vacancies that each NOC accounted for, out of all the vacancies, were also compared on a regional basis.

Drilling down into the data reveals that, overall, wages for these vacant positions in the region are often near average, and in certain NOC’s, well above average compared to their provincial counterparts. Perhaps northerners should not be so quick to hop the fence.

A look at the average offered wage for vacant positions across Ontario economic regions had Northwestern Ontario behind only Ottawa and Toronto at just over $18 per hour. At $17.53 per hour, the Northeast was ahead of five other regions. 


graph: average offered wage for regions in Ontario


While the survey does not collect the vacancy rate, it is possible to determine the average proportion of vacancies an occupation represents out of all the vacancies, as well as the average wage offered for these vacant jobs for each NOC.


graph: vacancies by occupation by region


The largest number of available jobs across the province are in the sales and service classification. In the north, these vacancies make up a larger proportion than in any other economic region in Ontario. More importantly, when it comes to the average offered wage for these positions, the Northwest was slightly above average at $12.59, with the Northeast being below average at $12.36.


graph: vacancies for sales and service occupations

Source: Statistics Canada


Education, law and social, community and government services occupations make up a higher proportion of the vacancies in Northern Ontario than anywhere else in the province.   

In every economic region besides Toronto, trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations represented the second largest area of vacancy. In the Northeast this made up 15.93% of vacancies in 2015, and in the Northwest these jobs represented 14.31% of vacancies, both of which were slightly below the provincial average.

Again, even better news for northerners and potential northerners: nowhere in the province are there higher offered wages for these vacant positions than in our region. Northeastern Ontario offers $20.70 per hour, while the Northwest boasts the highest offered average wage for trades and transport at nearly $24 per hour.  

graph: average wage of vacant jobs for trades and related occupations

Source: Statistics Canada


Health occupations follow a similar pattern. On average, this sector has the fourth largest number of vacancies across the province, and in Northern Ontario they represent an above average proportion.

Once again, the average offered wages for these vacant occupations are better here than anywhere else. The Northern economic regions offer the highest wages in the province. This time the Northeast holds the highest at $30.43, with the Northwest offering a similarly high $28.03.

These above average wages are not limited to these few occupations either. All in all, Northern economic regions top the average offered wage in four different occupation classifications. Along with health and trades related occupations, the North has the highest average offered wages in natural resources, agriculture and related production, as well as in manufacturing and utilities

So is the grass all that much greener? It would appear as though it’s not. In five of the ten occupational classifications, both Northern economic regions offer above provincial average wages for vacant positions, and in two others, the Northwest sits higher than the provincial average. For the remaining occupations, both Northern economic regions are close to the provincial averages, and are only significantly lower in one NOC.


graph: average wage for vacant positions

Source: Statistics Canada


This information, as well as other reports done by Northern Policy Institute, paint a much more positive picture than some in Northern Ontario may perceive.

When it comes to job opportunities in the North, it’s not all doom and gloom, despite what you may hear from some of conversations at the local Tim Hortons. Northerners looking for work in the sales and service sector should have no problem landing a job in the region. If they are looking to start a career in health or trades related sectors, there are a fair number of vacant positions to be filled, and these jobs provide a great average offered wage, often higher than the provincial average. So while many in the region may be lured by the bright lights down south, perhaps, when Northerners (or potential Northerners) seek out their next job, they should first have a look at what’s in their own backyard.

Jarrod Sundmark is a policy intern at Northern Policy Institute. 

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1 Reader Comments

  • Jobs in the north

    Posted By Ferg Devins on 1/30/2017 1:40:54 PM

    This is a wonderful statistical review of opportunities in the north. If we look across the board at opportunity the high level view is actually quite encouraging. However, looking at the statistics and the lesser developed areas of opportunity - one quickly sees why the grass may be greener outside of northern Ontario for those seeking corporate, professional or advancement opportunity. Thanks for the great work by Jarod ! @FergDevins

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