It takes two to tango – balancing two careers and a relationship

Photo by Anne Jarske, Flickr

David and Shannon Simpson were nervous and a little sad to leave good friends behind. But they were also excited to begin a new adventure together. It was August 2012 and the couple were preparing to relocate to New Zealand, where David had just been appointed to a lecturer position at Massey University. For couples like the Simpsons, relocation brings both opportunity and uncertainty. David could look forward to an exciting new position, but Shannon was faced with finding a job in a new country with no connections or work experience there.

The Simpsons had been through a similar relocation before. They were lucky when they first moved from Colorado to Vancouver in 2009: Shannon was accepted into her desired library science program at the University of British Columbia right around the same time her husband found a position in the mathematics department there.

But it’s not always that easy for a spouse to find a job when one partner relocates for his or her job, especially in Vancouver.

Jayne Booth | Photo courtesy of Jayne Booth

“Some industries are just not served in Vancouver the way they are in other major world cities. [Vancouver] hasn’t got many head offices, it’s not got any major centres like Toronto, like London in England, or Paris. We haven’t got what people expect there to be. [Spouses] just assume they’re going to be able to get a job. The problem starts when they get here and they can’t,” says Jayne Booth, manager at the Work-Life and Relocation Services Office at the University of British Columbia.

In a city that is one of the most expensive in Canada in which to live, there is urgency for a spouse to get a job. One of Booth’s tasks is to help 60 to 70 spouses a year find work, but there can be many challenges, including a lack of Canadian work experience, English language skills or professional certification that is recognized in Canada. If the wife of a new hire – and it usually is the wife of, according to Booth – can’t find a job, this can result in financial as well as emotional stress.

“Luckily, financially we’re okay, but career-wise… I don’t want to have graduated school and then be unemployed for a year and have to try and explain that,” says Shannon Simpson.

Exact numbers on how many spouses arrive in Vancouver each year are not readily available. British Columbia welcomed 34,685 new permanent residents in 2011, 29 per cent of whom are family members, a category that includes partners, children and grandparents. In addition, 27,273 temporary foreign workers came to Vancouver in 2011, some probably accompanied by their spouses. These partners automatically receive a work permit that allows them to work for any employer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are successful within the job market.

Heiko Hofmann, 43, came from Germany to Vancouver in 2010 when his girlfriend Eva-Maria Emig was offered a job in the Canadian team of the pharmaceutical company where she worked. However, the experienced geoscientist with a PhD can’t work in Canada because his field is regulated.

“I’m a professional, but I’m not even allowed to call myself [that] here. I’ve been working as a houseman, mostly, and I don’t mind to do that, actually,” Hofmann explains.

Heiko Hofmann | Photo courtesy of Heiko Hofmann

He does want to return to work as a manager of a geosciences lab at some point but, for now, he does not regret his move. He and Emig like Vancouver and have made friends here, and, most importantly, he wanted to be with his partner and support her in this experience.

Shannon Simpson, who just landed herself a dream position at the city library in her new hometown of Palmerston North in New Zealand, also believes that relocation is a process of give and take.

“Do I want a librarian job or do I want to be with David? I guess I’d rather not be a librarian and be with David,” she says.