Careers in Geography
Geography students graduate with a broad skillset in both the Arts and Sciences, and this positions them for a wide and exciting diversity of career opportunities. Many geography students choose to continue their education into more specialized fields, e.g. Planning or Education, while most move directly into the workforce.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
GIS is a skillset sought after by a large diversity of industries. There's a variety GIS job types, ranging from the GIS technician to the GIS programmer to the professional who uses GIS as part, but not the primary part, of their job (e.g. business location, crime analyst, forestry technician). Jobs are found in both the private and public sectors. The type of GIS job one might seek out depends a lot on how much experience and training they have in GIS, and the type of job one is looking for. But here's what's certain. Demand for graduates with at least some GIS is high.
- Additional Training? Sometimes, depending on the type of job someone is seeking. For a graduate wanting to get into programming or forestry, additional or complementary certification is usually expected. But many GIS jobs require a Bachelor degree, with GIS training within it.
- Job Location: All over, with the greatest numbers in SW BC, Prince George, and the Okanagan.
Planning is a large and diverse field. Many planners choose a planning specialization: urban planning, regional planning, tourism planning, recreation and parks, rural planning, heritage and preservation, and environmental planning. However, planning consultants often have experience in multiple areas. Planning technicians are also part of the industry. Jobs are more likely to be in the public sector, or with private sector firms who work on contract with or alongside public sector agencies.
- Additional Training? Usually, and especially for professionals in specific types of planning. Expect to pursue a two-year Master's level program if looking to go into this field, either right after your undergraduate, or after working as a planning technician or consultant for a few years.
- Job Location: Everywhere, with the number of planners in a given area being a reflection, in part, or population and size of urban centres. Growth in northern BC.
- Certification: Yes. Separate certification systems exist for planners (CIP) and Planning Technicians (CACPT)
Many geography students continue on to prepare for careers in education, either through entering a teacher education program or by directly entering the workforce. While many of these careers are within the K-12 education sector, others are not, and involve public outreach and education, placements with private companies that require teachers (e.g. cruise ships), and working with local and national parks in education program development. Geography students may also seek work with private firms who develop educational materials, either in geography or in a related field (e.g. forestry).
- Additional Training? For K-12 teachers, yes, through a Teacher Education program or a Bachelor of Education (which is a subsequent, or second, degree only). But environmental educators or those working in industry are more likely to require only their bachelor's degree and some experience.
- Job Location: Everywhere, but growth is greatest in northern BC
Environmental and development organizations hire geography students who are well-prepared for work on specific issues or causes. These often include conservation organizations, international aid organizations, or community development associations. Specific skills, e.g. communications, GIS, team-building, cultural sensitivity, are needed for many of these careers.
- Additional Training? Not typically, but experience counts! Build up volunteer and paid experiences while still in school, and develop a diversity of skills, from leadership training to use of social media to experience applying GIS to specific non-profit needs.
- Job Location: Everywhere, but most jobs in SW BC, and elsewhere, in southern Ontario
Natural Resources Management
This is a critically important field in the BC context, and as such, the types of jobs found in natural resources are variable and widespread. They include specializations like agronomy, forestry, and GIS, to jobs built on more interdisciplinary training, such as resource education and environmental restoration. Jobs are found in the private sector (working with mining, forestry, agriculture, etc.) and the public sector.
- Additional Training? Depends on specialization and course selection and experiences while in school. Many jobs require a Bachelor degree only, while some in forestry and environmental planning would require additional diploma level or master's level training.
- Job Location: Everywhere. One of the best areas to consider if interested in working outside the lower mainland.
- Certification: For some specializations, yes--including Agronomy and Forestry.
Geography students are commonly employed by the public sector at all levels, from local government on up to international organizations (e.g. the UN). The skills and knowledge that geographers bring to the workforce are often most highly utilized in fields that fall within the mandate of government agencies. These include:
- Environmental and social program development and management
- National, provinicial, and regional park management and planning
- Data collection, management, and anlaysis, e.g. Statistics Canada
- Sustainability coordinator
- Environmental stewardship initiatives
- Water quality, soil science, and environmental health
- Public health initiatives
- Real estate assessment
- Public transportation management and planning
- Customs and immigration
- Development specialist
- Heritage mapping and interpretation
- Additional Training? Many entry-level jobs are available in government, but there's stiff competition for these. Additional training often needed for promotion, and it is required for specialized positions (e.g. climatologist, heritage specialist). But experience also counts! This is especially true in sustainability fields, data handling, public education, and GIS. Some fields, such as real estate assessment, require specific coursework, but not full master's level programs.
- Job Location: Everywhere.
The private sector is the richest source of employment opportunities for geographers, in part because of the many different industries that geographers can enter. These include jobs utilizing both Arts and Sciences skillsets and knowledge. Employment can include:
- Market research and analysis, e.g. helping firms find the best place to locate
- Logistics and transportation analysis
- Supply chain management, e.g. working with a company to find the ideal sources for key inputs, based on geographic and other variables
- Environmental consulting
- Tourism and recreation firms
- Architecture firms
- GIS technicians and cartographers, e.g. for newspapers, developers, and retail firms
- Geotechnicians, e.g. assessing slope stability for new development
- Sustainability managers
- Forecasters, esp. in agriculture and finance
- Development of educational and outreach materials for firms
Many of the jobs above can work in multiple sectors. For instance, planners are hired by both government agencies and by private developers. The key is to think broadly, and to be flexible when considering career fields. Many of the 'best' jobs are not ones that are conventional or well-known, but are nonetheless in high demand.
- Additional Training? Similar to government/ public sector jobs. But in Business, experience, networks, and professional engagement count, and can open the door quicker than additional credentials necessarily would.
- Job Location: Everywhere, but in highest density in SW BC.
Check out some of the following resources for more information on geography careers, salaries (US data), and how to best prepare for different fields:
Association of American Geographers Careers Guide.