Hot jobs: Public vs. private sector â which pays more?
|globalnews.ca 31 Oct 2018 at 03:22|
WhenÂ Alicia Vandeweghe graduated from Ryerson University with a masterâs degree in communication and culture in 2008, the deep recession Â discouraged her from continuing on in school.
Her student loans were an inescapable financial weight and she couldnât stomach the thought of taking on even more loans to go to teacherâs college when job prospects seemed so poor.
âThere was an urgency for me to start working,â Vandeweghe says. She gave herself a six-month deadline to find a job and, almost immediately, zeroed in on public sector employment.
A decade later, Vandeweghe ticks off her reasons: decent pay, job security, good benefits and a pension. She alsoÂ thoughtÂ she would be more likely to find meaning in public sector work, a feeling she was helping people.
âI wanted the room for growth. I didnât want to be changing employers every year or two. I wanted that stability. I also wanted to really enjoy what I did.â
She started at Ryerson University on a four-month contract that extended into permanent work. Sheâs been there a decade, and she isnât planning to leave. Sheâs found it fulfilling to help students navigate grad school and found opportunities to be creative, helping out with photography, writing, and helping manage a graphics team.
âIâll likely retire from here.â
Many people arenât quite so secure in their jobs. Itâs estimated that one in five Canadians work precarious jobs , meaning they work part-time or on contracts with little stability. For those people who are angling for more money and a stable job Â â where should they look?
For Vandeweghe, clocking out daily at 5 p.m. to get home to her two children is a huge perk. But public sector jobs arenât alwaysÂ the obvious choice for other people looking for similarly good jobs. You can look at statistics and stereotypes, compare wages, but at the end of the day, Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, says itâs going to depend on what a good job means to you.
Hassan Yussuff, Canadian Labour Congress president, at Third Floor York in Ottawa March 7, 2016. Photo by Blair Gable
Is it just about the zeros on your paycheque? Do you want more paid sick days? What about a pension? Do you care if the computer youâre clacking away on is running software five years outdated? Or if the layers of bureaucracy mean your projects stall for months awaiting approval?
âMost people say a good job is a good salary,â Yussuff says, but, he notes, there is a âbroader acceptanceâ now that people get sick and grow old, so theyâre looking for the added security of a benefits package and a pension to retire on â not just a dollar figure.
Still, if boosting the figure on your paycheque is the primary goal, an analysis from the Fraser Institute Â makes it clear: pick public sector work.
It doesnât mean you have to work directly for the government. While nearly two-thirds of Canadians work in the private sector, roughly 20 per cent work in the public realm, meaning theyâre employed by governments of all levels as well as government agencies, crown corporations, and government-funded institutions like hospitals, schools and universities.
They make an average of 10.6 per cent more than their private counterparts, per the 2016 Fraser Institute report, which analyzes 2015 data from Statistics Canadaâs monthly labour force survey and includes both unionized and non-unionized jobs. That premium dropped to 7.2 per cent when the Fraser Institute only compared unionized employees.
âThe gap is pretty consistent and itâs reasonably high,â says Steve Lafleur, a senior policy analyst with the Institute.
How much more youâre estimated to make varies depending on your job. Contractors and supervisors working in trades and transportation experienced the smallest pay bump working in the public sector (3.7 per cent), while those employed in protective services jobs earned the most (39.5 per cent). Teachers and professors fell in the middle, earning an estimated 15.5 per cent more than their private peers.
Angella MacEwen, senior economist at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, urged people not to get too caught up in the 10.6 per cent average wage differential. Some low-paying private jobs, she says, just donât have a public counterpart. The salary earned by food service workers or retail workers or other similar jobs âkind of pulls down the [private sector] average.â
Salary aside, there are still plenty of other factors to weigh. Indeed, many of the benefits that drew Vandeweghe to working at a university go well beyond her paycheque. Per the Fraser Instituteâs numbers, public sector workers enjoy many other non-wage benefits:
Those benefits tend to be the work of unions, MacEwen says.
âItâs hard to tease out, but we do know that when the public sector contracts out to non-union shops they donât have the same kind of benefits or pay.â
In general, Lafleur says, there should be some sort of trade-off between public and private work. In other words, you should be accepting slightly lower pay but more benefits and stability in the public realm while the reverse is true in the private sector.
âBut there really isnât one,â he says. âAcross the board, public sector employees seem to be doing better than their private sector cohorts.â
Public sector employees tend to do better than their private sector counterparts, says Steve Lafleur, a senior policy analyst with the Fraser Institute.
Whether that keeps up, remains to be seen. Governments set public sector wage levels and donât seem to be doing much to âcontrol the costsâ like the private sector does, Lafleur says. Finding ways to be sustainable long-term might force them to lower public wages, he says, given how indebted some provinces are.
âWe have some real serious challenges and at some point they have to be reckoned with. We canât simply decide to not pay our bills forever.â
Helping people in both public and private sectors advance their careers is Meghan Reidâs job. Reid is a registered psychologist and the owner of Canada Career Counselling. She advises people trying to figure out what career theyâre ideally suited for. Part of that, she says, is helping some people figure out whether they want to be publicly or privately employed and helping others who are trying to make the shift from one to the other.
While the 2016 Fraser Institute report indicates the average public employee makes nearly 11 per cent more than those in the private sector, Reid says for some jobs the private sector tends to pay up to a quarter more. Whether someone wants those jobs usually depends on their personality and preferred lifestyle. The public sector tends to reel in those looking for stability, she says, while the private sector tends to attract the risk takers.
âIf people really want to make a big impact, have influence, get things doneâŚ theyâll often want to move into the private sector,â Reid says. Private employers attract âhigh-achieving, type-A people,â while the public is more likely to attract âbalanced, stable, more risk-averse people,â she said.
Common complaints from those looking to leave the public sector often revolve around outdated technology and cumbersome bureaucracy, she says.
âIndependence and autonomy and being able to get things done is a big push,â Reid says. âPeople who come from public are often like, âOh my gosh, things are so slow moving, I need to get through 20 layers of approval before I can actually do anything so stuff doesnât get done and it drives me nuts.ââ
Itâs important to recognize that what people want often changes as they get older, MacEwen says. In some cases, when people are able to, theyâll start in the private sector, where âitâs really demanding and hectic and hard to have a work-life balance,â and then transition to public when theyâre ready to have a family.That balance is key for Vandeweghe.
Jobs with evenings and weekends? âThat was a no-go,â she says. âNot being able to see my kids? No job is worth that to me.â
Still, Vandeweghe didnât start with full-time work. Even in the public sector, she started on a contract that was extended before ultimately turning into a permanent role. Thatâs becoming more and more common, MacEwen says, in addition to increasing use of temp agencies in the public realm.
âSo [some] people that are working in the federal public service, their employer is actually a temp agency and theyâre there for six months and then theyâre moved to a different spot.â
Itâs becoming more and more common for the public sector to rely on contract work and the use of temp agencies, says Angella MacEwen, senior economist at the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
People seem to accept that in the private sector, MacEwen says, but public perception still seems to be that government work is more stable.
âThis is something weâre trying to wrap our heads around globally: how to make jobs more secure and how to move past this kind of gig economy.â
It would help, Yussuff says, if governments got on board and stepped up employment standards regulations to address the reality of precarious work.
âPrecarity is now the underpinning of this new economy,â he says. âEmployers believe they donât necessarily have to put people on their payroll, they donât have to treat them the same.â