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WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES IN CANADA FOR RECENT UNIVERSITY GRADUATES?

by Martin Emslie | Oct 07, 2014

As an intern with Environics Analytics and a recent university graduate, I have a special interest identifying cities that are popular among other university graduates. A city with a large concentration of university grads typically means there are lots of jobs that require university degrees—an attractive trait for job-seekers like me—and indicates an environment conducive to advancing a career. And lots of university graduates also mean a dating pool of other young singles who, after all, will help fill any free time away from a job.

So I set out to find the best places for recent university graduates. Using data from Environics Analytics—including DemoStats, WealthScapes and PRIZMC2-linked data from BBM—I examined 22 cities in Canada with populations greater than 100,000 and a minimum of 20 percent possessing a university degree. I considered a variety of factors that are important to new graduates, such as population growth, proportion of white-collar occupations, proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds, the employment rate, entertainment and recreational activities, and varied transportation options. (A complete listing of city attributes can be found at the end.)

The result of my analysis was a ranking of cities from #1 to #22 according to 48 different attributes. I’ve provided highlights—and a couple of lowlights—below, augmenting the hard data with my own admittedly subjective observations.

 

Ottawa

Career Prospects Quality of Life
#1 – Populationwith a university degree
#1 – Proportion of white-collar employment
#1 – Proportion of public sector employment
#1 – Proportion of employment in the arts
#3 – Discretionary household income
#1 – Proportion of employment in the arts
#2 – Travel to work by bicycle
#5 – Public transit to work

Among Canada’s largest cities, Ottawa has the most educated population with roughly 35 percent possessing a university degree. White-collar employment in the public sector is high, as well as private sector employment. And the city scored near the top for household discretionary income at $49,337—17 percent above the Canadian average of $41,041—with little variance across age cohorts. Ottawa house prices are average, suggesting that the cost of living is modest. What’s also average are Ottawa’s rankings for population growth and employment, significantly below cities in western Canada. Part of this lackluster performance could be traced to Ottawa’s reliance on the public sector and need for bilingualism in many jobs in the capital region. However, few places rival Ottawa for both employment prospects and quality of life. For commuting to work, it ranked second for cycling and third for public transportation use. It was number one for the proportion of employment in the arts and cultural sector, which I consider a positive indicator for both career prospects and quality of life. And having vacationed in Ottawa the last two years, I can vouch for its livability: There’s an abundance of museums, free concerts, historical sites and well-preserved downtown buildings.

Calgary

Career Prospects Quality of Life
#1 – Projected population growth
#1 – Discretionary household income
#1 – Employment rate
#2 – Proportion of white-collar employment
#3 – Population with a university degree
#3 – Proportion of 25-34 year olds


If you want a place to live with many like-minded upwardly mobile young professionals, Calgary is a great pick. It ranked number one for the rate of employment and discretionary income. It was also second for share of white-collar employment, indicating that it is likely a placed where you can put your degree to good use. Calgary is my hometown and each time I’ve returned to visit, I’ve always found it easy to find a job and save money. It also seems that half the people I meet are from outside the province and optimistic about the future. After all, Calgary is also the fastest growing city in Canada. Not all growth has been positive though; the cost of living keeps rising and the transportation infrastructure struggles to keep up. But I’ve also seen how fast the city can react to change and support major projects such as a new LRT line and a ring road/freeway. Both were completed in fraction of the time it would have taken in a place like Toronto.

Calgary scored much lower on the list for entertainment and recreational activities. And I can attest that the downtown core can be quiet on weekends and evenings. Calgary also has high parking costs, which have certainly forced many to use public transit for commuting, though the proportion of those walking is still fairly low. With Calgary being the third youngest city, it’s probably only a matter of time until it rises in other areas of livability.

Regina

Career Prospects Quality of Life
#2 – Employment rate
#3 – Population growth
#4 – Proportion of white collar employment
#1 – Concerts attended
#1 – Stadiums visited
#2 – Sporting events attended
#4 – Dancing/night clubs attended
#4 – Proportion of 25-34 year olds

Regina’s employment prospects are similar to Calgary but offers smaller-city living and a slower pace. It ranks at the top for white-collar employment, rate of employment and population growth. Its residents score at the top for attending concerts, sporting events and dancing/nightclubs. I lived in Saskatchewan for 6 months and can say that it’s more than just flat prairie town. Its summer festivals were impressive and comparable to those found in larger-sized cities. Residents also take football very seriously. One 2013 poll ranked the local CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as the second most respected sports brand in Canada.

Regina has limitations as it is isolated with a smallish population of 230,000—potentially big drawbacks for some companies. While the province suffered high unemployment and population declines from interprovincial migration in the 1990s, these trends have reversed. Regina is now one of the youngest cities in Canada with one of the lowest unemployment rates. If providing good job prospects isn’t enough, the provincial government offers a tuition rebate of up to $20,000 for graduates from anywhere in the world who are willing to relocate to the underpopulated province.

Two great places that lagged behind

Victoria

Career Prospects Quality of Life
#2 – Proportion of healthcare employment
#4 – Proportion of employment in the arts
#1 – Travel to work by bicycle
#1 – Travel to work by walking
#2 – Concerts attended
#3 – Dancing/nightclubs attended
#4 – Proportion employment in the arts

I lived in Victoria for five years while doing my undergraduate degree and can say it was a great place to be a student. There’s great scenery, a well-preserved downtown and winters devoid of snow. Even today, the city is at the top for cultural events, as well as for walking and cycling to work. But trying to be a young professional there can be a challenge. The proportion of households with white-collar jobs and high discretionary income is much lower than many other markets. Victoria also ranked last in the percentage of 25-34 year olds with children at home, indicating that it may be a hard place to raise a young family. However, Victoria has a large proportion of retirees, which indicates a need for jobs in the field of healthcare.

Toronto

Career Prospects Quality of Life
#1 – Total population 2014
#2 – Population with a university degree
#2 – Total household income
#1 – Public transportation to work

Toronto has the largest population of all markets in Canada and is near the top for having an educated population. With a lot of corporate headquarters, employment diversity and a wide range of entertainment options, you’d think Toronto would rank high on my list. But the main deal breaker for recent university graduates is its low employment rate ranking. Unemployment in Toronto has hovered around 8% for several years, compared to nearly half that in Prairie cities. Toronto certainly has a buzz to it, but if you can’t afford its lifestyle by finding a job in your field, it can be discouraging. So if you’re a recent grad with your heart set on moving to the big city, think about getting some work experience elsewhere first. You’ll be in a better position to enjoy everything Toronto has to offer when you get that beyond-entry-level job.

For a new graduate starting their career, it’s important to find a city that has a high proportion of jobs in one’s field, offers strong earning potential and features plenty of amenities geared for a young populace. Ottawa, Calgary and Regina seem to be the best choices for new graduates, particularly from the perspective of advancing one’s career. Toronto and Victoria, while also desirable, have too many factors that may limit a graduate’s prospects. In Toronto, the problem is the heavy competition for jobs. In Victoria, there aren’t enough jobs or discretionary income among those who have them. For my fellow graduates, I’d recommend a scouting trip to Ottawa—but I don’t want to increase the competition while I’m still looking.

—Martin Emslie

Sources 
Total Population – 2014 – Demostats 2014 
Total Population – 2019 – Demostats 2014 
Projected Population growth – Demostats 2014 
Total Population Aged 25 to 34 % – Demostats 2014 
Without Children at Home % – Demostats 2014 
University degree % – Demostats 2014 
Travel to Work by Bicycle % – Demostats 2014 
Travel to Work by Public Transit % – Demostats 2014 
Travel to Work by Walked % – Demostats 2014 
Business Finance Administration % – Demostats 2014 
Occupations in Art,Culture,Recreation,Sport % – Demostats 2014 
Occupations in Health % – Demostats 2014 
Occupations in Sciences % – Demostats 2014 
Occupations in Social Science,Education,Government,Religion % – Demostats 2014 
White collar occupations (excluding health) % – Demostats 2014 
In The Labour Force % – Demostats 2014 
WealthScapes Average Household Income – Wealthscapes 
WealthScapes Average Household Discretionary Income – Wealthscapes 
Any Concert Venue - Attended/Visited _Pst Yr_ - Concerts % - Numeris
Dancing/Night Clubs - Attended _Pst Yr_ - Attractions/Events – Numeris
Sporting Events/Racing Events/Air Shows - Attended/Visited– Numeris