Who Makes What?

Your halfway-through-2013 voyeuristic check-in on the state of salaries in B.C.

As unbelievable as it sounds, it is possible to make so much money that you actually don’t know what your salary is. Ask Finning International Inc. CEO Mike Waites what he made last year and he has to think. “About 4.7 million, I believe. Between four and five million, for sure.” Close enough. What’s a couple hundred thousand dollars?

Waites, who has been CEO since 2008 for Finning, the world’s largest Caterpillar dealer, actually earned $4.85 million last year between his salary and stock and cash compensations. Yet while he may not be able to recall that number off the top of his head, Waites certainly remembers, without hesitation, his first salary.

“It was $14,400,” he says. “That was in 1977 and I was hired at Chevron [in Calgary] as a financial analyst. I quit graduate school because I was out of money, so I thought it was a king’s ransom at the time.”

These days, Waites “can afford most things I need and want,” he says. “I can certainly afford the things I need.”

The opposite, however, is true for many others.

B.C. sits in the middle of the pack nationally when it comes to minimum wage at $10.25, behind Nunavut ($11) the Yukon ($10.54) and Nova Scotia ($10.30), according to the latest Statistics Canada numbers. The province’s median household income is sixth highest in the country, at $66,970. But add in the fact that Vancouver still boasts the country’s most expensive real estate and the fact that its residents are the country’s most indebted consumers, and the topic of salaries is particularly acute.

Who earns what? It’s a question most of us would love to have answered, but few volunteer their own salary. Others, though, are forced by regulations and proxies to divulge their annual earnings. For example, we know how much our politicians make as well as executives at public companies.

“A $100 a month raise, that’s what we gave ourselves,” says Mayor Nipper Kettle of Greenwood, home to 750 residents in the Kootenays. “That was our first raise in 12 years. Now I earn a whopping $650 a month. What does that amount to a year? So little I should be able to do the math in my head.”

But how much is your neighbour really making? Or your boss? What accounts for the disparity in pay?

Read on for a 2013 snapshot of where you fall on the earning scale in the province, and where compensation in your industry is headed.

The Big Money Is Out There

As in: outside of the Lower Mainland

An engineer, an accountant, a lawyer and a salesperson walk into recruiter Henry Goldbeck’s Georgia  Street office in Vancouver. Who will walk out with a job?

Know how to sell control valves or pneumatic-related machinery and Goldbeck has jobs galore for you—many paying well over $100,000 as a base salary before commission. But here’s the catch: you have to move to Saskatchewan or Edmonton, and if you’re like most people in Vancouver, you’re unwilling to pack up and leave.

“It hasn’t changed that much in the 25 years I’ve been doing business,” says Goldbeck, president and senior recruiter at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc. “Canadians do not tend to move for career opportunities—especially in western Canada and particularly in Vancouver or the West Coast. Based on what I’ve seen, life situation is weighted much more in the decision to stay here in Vancouver than to go somewhere because of the job.”

Women Get Less

The difference in average hourly wage between men and women aged 15+, 2012
Alberta $6.04
B.C. $4.26
Saskatchewan $3.76
Newfoundland + Labrador $3.62
Ontario $3.33
Manitoba $2.64
Nova Scotia $2.51
Quebec $2.54
New Brunswick $2.35
P.E.I. $0.50
Canadian Average $3.15

Right now, if you’re an engineer who can fix and maintain ammonia refrigerator units used in manufacturing and processing plants, Goldbeck can find you work. Or if you’re a cardiac surgeon trained at a western university, there are positions waiting at Beijing and Shanghai hospitals that service exclusively expat patients, where you’ll earn $500,000 a year. It all depends on whether you’re willing to relocate.

If you want to stay in the Lower Mainland and are willing to earn less than you would elsewhere, selective vacancies abound. For months, Goldbeck has been looking for an assistant research scientist in food research and development. It’s a senior position and the candidate has to have experience, but the pay is at a junior level—a pattern that plays out all over the Lower Mainland, says Goldbeck, because employers know they can pay lower salaries in Metro Vancouver since many job seekers are more interested in lifestyle than advancing up the corporate ladder.

He also needs to hire a chef at a restaurant that’s medium to high range for $70,000—a post that would easily pay $10,000 more in other cities. Goldbeck adds that the hospitality industry in particular is susceptible to lower salaries on the West Coast due to its flexibility and how that dovetails with the lifestyle-for-salary sacrifice of a large part of the B.C. workforce.

The people who walk through his recruitment and placement agency and need work are the ones who want to stay in Vancouver, Goldbeck says.

“Someone very career-minded will be in a situation where their next move is Toronto and Calgary,” he says. “For head offices, they’re probably terrified when they transfer their stars to Vancouver for what is supposed to be a short-term stay,” says Goldbeck. “The odds are they don’t want to move back.”

If You’re Going to Make Less, Do Something You Love

Creativity is the key to a fulfilling job, regardless of pay

In all her years of coaching people on their career choices, not once has B.C.-based executive coach Ann Rice ever come across anyone wanting to do something less creative in their work.

“I’ve never had someone who is a prima ballerina saying I want to become a heart surgeon,” she says. “People are always saying they want to be more creative and do work that is more fulfilling, and we often think they want to be dancers or photographers or artists or in film. But what people get to realize is there’s a lot of creativity in what they do already.”

Rice, who works for Sterling Executive Coaching, has noticed a shift in those who have been working for decades and younger workers just starting their careers. The reality of the job market brings a growing realization among workers, from those in their 20s to those in their late 50s, that they’re not willing to settle for just any job. B.C.’s unemployment rate rose to seven per cent in March, compared to 6.3 per cent in February, with a net loss of 15,000 full-time jobs. In April 2012, the unemployment rate in B.C. was 6.2 per cent.

“What I hear from people is they feel dead from the knees up and they just can’t stay in a situation where, to balance economic realities, they have to pay for that with finding work that has a purpose and where they can use their skills and strengths,” Rice says. “It used to be that people would say, ‘I’ll do the job to pay the rent and do what I love after work.’ Something has shifted and people aren’t willing to do that any longer.”