Nearly nine out of 10 Canadians who have made a career change say they’re happier since switching paths, a new survey has found.
Conducted on behalf of job site Indeed Canada, the research polled 1,023 randomly selected full-time workers from a variety of industries and education levels and found that 38 per cent had made a complete career change at some point.
Another 35 per cent said they were either currently considering switching careers or have contemplated doing so.
Of those respondents who have made a career pivot, 87 per cent said they are happier since making the change.
Eric Norton counts himself among those.
The former Ontario school teacher started a new career as a firefighter for Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services a little over a year ago.
“I’m extremely happy,” said Norton, 40. “I don’t want to say I’m made for this job, but this job really suits me.”
Although he’s quick to say that there was a lot that he liked about his eight years teaching mostly high school science for the York Region District School Board and the six he spent as an elementary teacher before that, over time he “started to lose steam.”
Norton said the parts he didn’t like about the job — things like the paperwork associated with preparing and submitting lessons plans — started to eclipse the things he enjoyed and was good at, like interacting with the students.
He took a year of leave after his third child was born, hoping to become re-energized and “go back to work in the fall like a brand-new teacher.”
Instead, at the end of his first day back, he told his wife, “I don’t think I can do this for 20 more years.”
In high school Norton hadn’t been clear on what kind of career he wanted, so he followed in his mother’s footsteps, attending teacher’s college after completing an undergrad degree.
Norton said his career change wasn’t inspired by a childhood fascination with fire trucks, but instead came as a suggestion from his wife.
“She’d been talking to a mutual friend of ours whose husband became a firefighter in late 30s,” said Norton. “She thought that I would be good at the job. I had never even considered it before.”
Old skills, new challenges
After a conversation with that man, Norton decided to work toward the first requirement for becoming a firefighter — getting in really good physical shape. He started to take his “dad bod” to the gym a lot more and to run sprints outside.
He used a meditation app to help with the mental focus he’d need to keep going even when his body told him to quit during the physical tests that awaited him. Because swimming exhausts Norton quickly, he did a lot of pool workouts to task his cardiovascular system in preparation for the VO2 max, a notoriously difficult aerobic endurance test that measures the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise.
He completed a one-year firefighting program at Seneca College, and after he passed all the required academic and physical tests, it took about a year of applying to land a job in his new field.
Norton said he’s able use the skills he developed in the classroom in his new job far more often than he expected. He leans on his interpersonal skills in situations like going into people’s home on the crew’s many medical calls — a situation not unlike meeting a student’s parents for the first time.
These strengths also come in handy for getting along with new colleagues during 24-hour shifts. “Twenty-four hours is a lot of time to spend with people if you don’t have good communication and interpersonal skills.”
Money talks, but not always
The Indeed research found that better pay was the most common reason respondents changed careers, with 63 per cent citing it as their main motivation. But 57 per cent of those who switched said they did so because they wanted more opportunity for growth.
Like Norton, 47 per cent said they enrolled in education and training programs to execute their career transformation.
Because of his long tenure as a teacher, Norton’s job as a firefighter came with a 30 per cent pay cut. But after about 3.5 years, Norton will move up pay grades and match his previous compensation.
Navarre Bailey also took a pay cut with his career change in 2017. After 13 years in corporate marketing roles, Bailey no longer felt good about how he was making a living.
“Having packaged good companies make X amount because of my talent, I was not helping society in anyway,” said Bailey, 33. “So I had started to becoming unfulfilled with what I was doing with my life.”
He left that job for the non-profit sector, first working for a mental health organization called Youth Assisting Youth, whose mandate he found meaningful because some people close to him had been through mental health challenges.
Today he’s a community fundraising co-ordinator for Heart & Stroke. “It feels amazing, and as corny as it may sound, when I go to bed at night I do feel fulfilled because I’m helping society. Before that I would go to bed and question, ‘What am I doing with my life?'”
Jodi Kasten, managing director for Indeed Canada, notes that the tight labour market means people are more likely to be able to execute career changes if they’re dissatisfied with their work.
In fact, the survey found that 59 per cent of career changers and those who are contemplating a switch say being unhappy in their current role is a driving factor.
Should you stay or should you go?
But few people make career changes on a whim. The survey found 62 per cent of those who switched planned their transitions well in advance, spending an average of 11 months thinking about a move.
“I would just encourage people, if they’re feeling unsettled or unhappy, that they start looking around and going to sites like Indeed.com to explore what’s out there and what do those opportunities look like,” said Kasten, who recommends researching employers in the new industry they’re considering.
The study was conducted by Censuswide, which did an online survey of Canadian Censuswide panellists screened to ensure all are full-time employees. The survey was conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1 and the margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.