Leaving your comfort zone, moving to a new country hundreds of miles away and starting your life and career all over again is a huge shift for immigrants. Many newcomers hope for a career progression in their new life in Canada, in fact, for some, it may be the main reason for their move. But among other things, while immigrating, newcomers often have to manage their finances well to ensure sustainability for themselves and their dependents until they find a stable source of livelihood.
Finances and income is such an important priority that most newcomers start their job search in the first few weeks or in the first month after moving to Canada. But not everyone is able to find their desired role immediately; for some, it can take a few months or even a year due to various reasons such as characteristics of the industry, specific requirements of the role they are applying for, competition in the job market, or even the time of year when they are applying. In order to preserve their life savings, meet their living expenses, and get some Canadian experience, newcomers often start lower on the corporate ladder or take up “survival jobs.”
In this article, we will help you learn more about survival jobs, outline the advantages and disadvantages so you can make informed decisions, and share a few sources where you can find survival jobs in Canada.
What is a survival job?
Survival jobs, like the name suggests, help you survive by covering basic living costs and helping you pay essential bills while still allowing you to continue looking for your desired role. A survival job also helps you earn Canadian experience, practice your language skills, and build your network locally. These are lower-skilled jobs where significant education or extensive professional experience is usually not required.
Some common examples of survival jobs are working as a driver with a ride-sharing service, warehouse or factory worker, cashier at a grocery store, barista at a coffee shop, food delivery person, sales associate, telemarketing associate, cleaner, or a server at a restaurant.
Survival jobs can be –
- Temporary: For a fixed short-term duration (weeks or months) based on the needs of the organization. Temporary positions may be contractual in nature.
- Part-time: For a limited number of hours per week, that’s usually lesser than a full-time position.
- Full-time: For approximately 35 to 40 hours per week. The number of hours may vary depending on the employer. Full-time employees are often provided with various benefits which are not offered to part-time employees.
The advantages and disadvantages of taking up a survival job
An ideal survival job is one that provides you with an opportunity to work in your industry or one that allows you to use the skills you would be required to use in your own profession, while also leaving you with enough time and opportunity to network and look for your ideal role.
The decision on whether or not to take up a survival job as a newcomer in Canada primarily depends on a few factors:
- Your financial circumstances
- Language skills
- Willingness to gain Canadian experience
To help you decide if it’s the right choice for you, here are some advantages and disadvantages of taking up a survival job in Canada.
Advantages of taking up a survival job in Canada
- Pays the bills: A survival job provides a source of income to help you pay your day-to-day living expenses. It can also be useful while renting a place – when landlords ask you to provide proof of income or an employment letter. It is worthwhile to note that by law, employers cannot pay less than the minimum wage outlined by the province where you reside. Some survival jobs may provide the opportunity to earn tips from customers, which is generally not accounted for as part of your salary.
Tip: To calculate the income you could earn from any survival job, refer to the minimum wages set by the Government.
- Helps you gain Canadian experience: Taking up a survival job can help you learn and understand essential soft skills that are valued by Canadian employers while also providing insights into the local culture, thus gradually helping you gather the much-coveted, Canadian experience. If you’re concerned that taking up a survival job may reflect poorly on your career trajectory, you can opt to not add that experience to your resume or LinkedIn profile; don’t feel compelled to disclose it to your future employers.
- Helps you improve your language skills: Many newcomers do not have English as their first language. Survival jobs offer the opportunity to brush up on your language skills, learn Canadian slang, and converse like a local.
- Good way to network: The networking culture is very popular across Canada – many employment opportunities can be found through networking. Working in a survival job is a good way to meet other people (co-workers, clients, vendors, and partners), grow your network and build relationships that may open doors for your next opportunity.
“Organizations look for individuals who are go-getters and those that fit well into their culture. Don’t let your extensive experience and qualifications from back home stop you from considering survival jobs – they are a good way to familiarize yourself with the local work culture and develop relevant social skills. Take it as a learning experience. Eventually, you may have the opportunity to apply all of these learnings to another (more fitting) position in the same organization or at other jobs.”
– Saiyona Ghosh, moved to Canada in 2018
“Don’t hesitate to take up survival jobs. It helps keep your mind busy and gather Canadian experience.”
– Design Padayachee, moved to Canada in 2018
Disadvantages of taking up a survival job in Canada
- Reduced hours for job search: A survival job will require you to put in the hours and effort, which can impact your available time to look up job postings, customize your resume, network, send out job applications, and go on interviews.
- Difficulty with scheduling interviews: Depending on your working hours at your survival job, it may be challenging to find a suitable time for scheduling job interviews with a potential employer.
- Complacency: Some newcomers get complacent in their survival jobs and gradually stop looking for opportunities that are better suited to their education and past experience – this may affect your prospects to earn a higher income or find a position that provides job satisfaction.
“When I began my job search, people who had been here for a couple of years told me that if you get into a survival job, it will eat up all your time – you won’t find time to get the job you’re targeting. So I decided not to spend time on survival jobs. I stuck to my plan, stayed focused, and it worked.”
– Gaurav Agarwal, moved to Canada in 2018
“I think the worst point for me was my first job. I was packing cosmetic products in a warehouse, and eight hours a day I would ask myself, “Did I get two masters degrees to do this – what am I doing here?” While I respect the work that the individuals do there, as a highly educated professional, it really demotivated me. However, I felt that I had no choice and thought, “This is the way to gain Canadian experience. I’m going to do it.” I accepted it, and I did that for two or three months until I landed my first marketing opportunity with a small business.”
– Dhiti Nanavati, moved to Canada in 2016
“After landing in Toronto, in addition to applying for jobs in my field, I also explored a variety of other positions (including survival jobs). Within two weeks, I had four job offers, and all of them were not from my field of interest. I picked the one that was from a leading coffee shop chain for two reasons: It was closer to home and involved working the night shift, so during the day, I’d have time for job applications and interviews in my desired field.”
– Saiyona Ghosh, moved to Canada in 2018
How to find a survival job in Canada?
Finding a survival job in Canada is relatively easier than looking for a full-time position that aligns with your past experience. There are various ways and means to find one; some of them are:
- Job sites: Just as you search for regular jobs, you can find survival jobs online on various websites such as Canada’s Job Bank, Indeed, Monster, Workopolis, CareerBuilder, or SimplyHired.
- Approaching local stores or businesses: You can try contacting grocery stores, restaurants, retailers at malls, or other businesses in your neighbourhood and inquire about any opportunities they might have. Usually, if they are hiring, you will see a “help wanted” sign. You can simply walk-in and speak with the manager to know more about the position and the application process.
- Reaching out to newcomer settlement agencies: Most government-funded newcomer settlement organizations offer job search assistance and advice for newcomers. To find leads for open positions, you may try contacting an agency that’s close to where you live.
- Networking: Canada has a hidden job market. The hidden job market refers to positions that are filled without the employer advertising for it publicly. It is said that as much as 65-85 per cent of the jobs are not posted online. This is why networking is crucial, and taking up a survival job is a great way to meet people, make friends, and expand your network.
What is the minimum wage in Canada?
Minimum wage is the lowest (or minimum) hourly pay an employer is legally expected to pay an employee whether they work part-time or full-time.
The minimum wage in Canada varies by province and territory – each with its own labour laws that determine the minimum pay, employee rights and working conditions, the minimum age to work, overtime rules, trade unions, etc.
Here’s an overview of the minimum wages across Canada as outlined by the Canadian Payroll Association:
|Province / Territory||Rate per hour (CAD)||Effective date|
Student (under 18): $13.00
|October 1, 2018
June 26, 2019
|British Columbia||General: $15.20
Liquor Server: $15.20
|June 1, 2021|
Security Guard: $12.50
|October 1, 2020
October 1, 2017
|New Brunswick||General: $11.75||April 1, 2021|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||General: $12.75||October 1, 2021|
|Northwest Territories||General: $13.46||April 1, 2018|
|Nova Scotia||General: $12.95||April 1, 2021|
|Nunavut||General: $16.00||April 1, 2020|
Liquor Server: $12.45
|October 1, 2020|
|Prince Edward Island||General: $13.00||April 1, 2021|
Tipped Employees: $10.80
|May 1, 2021|
|Saskatchewan||General: $11.45||October 1, 2020|
|Yukon||General: $13.85||April 1, 2021|
Moving to a new country, learning the local language, adapting to the culture, and finding your ideal role is challenging; it takes patience, hard work, and an awareness of local best practices. Generally, only a few newcomers find their dream job right away. Some of them have to take additional courses before they can start working or get relevant certifications and licenses to be able to work in their field – this takes time.
Depending on your personal and financial situation, taking up a survival job in Canada may help pay the bills and assist you with settling-in smoothly, while you continue pursuing your dream job!
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