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Moving to a Rural Community? Ten Tips for Career Practitioners

by Geoff S. Peruniak

Rural areas provide a lifestyle option, a recreation destination and a source of inspiration. The countryside is a source of raw materials, labour, capital and international exchange.

However, rural Canada is also often the recipient of urban and industrial waste, the object of destructive extraction practices and the casualty of indifferent global markets. Rural citizens have high stakes in creating solutions to these significant challenges. Rural career practitioners play a significant role in supporting their clients and their communities in such efforts.

Life as a Rural Career Practitioner

Only about 20% of the Canadian population is described as “rural” by Statistics Canada1, which defines rural as areas with population centres that are less than10,000 and where at least half the workforce is employed locally2 (i.e. not a bedroom community of an urban centre).

As a career practitioner, suppose you move from an urban centre to a small rural town. What might you discover that would differ from your urban experience? Here are ten items to consider as you make the transition:

  1. Perhaps you would have one of those rare “cushy government jobs” with a steady income and insurance benefits. If not, good luck in trying to get one. Unless you have exceptional qualifications, there is a long waiting list of “townies” (a.k.a. local residents with similar training and skills).
  2. Perhaps you thought that locating your employment office on the campus of the local college would give you credibility. Instead you are dismayed to find that most of your clients refuse to come there, as schooling has bad associations for many.
  3. You might be frustrated to learn that many of your clients cannot reach your services. They have limited access to a vehicle, distances are considerable and they may have infants at home but no childcare.
  4. Even if your clients can come into town, they worry that if seen by neighbours they’ll be considered failures for going into your office for help.
  5. It may take a while for you to get used to constantly running into your clients in the grocery store, in the hardware store and at the local garage. At some point you realize that the grocery store is really a community centre.
  6. You are astounded when the grocery cashier asks if you will look over her résumé for an oil field job because she has more bookkeeping experience than her sister, who was your client yesterday. “Is everyone related?” you may well ask.
  7. It will take your breath away to see local civic pride galvanized in the service of families who have lost their homes in a wildfire, or in the preservation of a riverfront, or in the building of a performing arts centre.
  8. It is almost axiomatic that people speculate on how long you will be staying. Not every urbanite makes the transition.
  9. You begin to realize that the labour market here is very limited, that building your credibility with local employers is critical to placing clients and you’d better not waste their time with ill-prepared candidates.
  10. Finally, you recognize that your own aspirations for professional development must be done from the inside-out beginning with yourself and expanding to local, like-minded human service providers. Travel to the city costs time and money both of which are in short supply.

At the end of a long day, you go outside and breathe in the sweet scent of aspen on a northern breeze. You feel peace in the bright, bubbly sound of an American Goldfinch and in his sunbeam flight. You are home.

References

1  “2006 Census: Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006, by Age and Sex”, 2006 Census analysis series, Statistics Canada, http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-551/p17-eng.cfm

2  “Definitions of Rural”, Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin, Statistics Canada, Vol. 3, No.3, November 2001.

Geoff Peruniak is Professor of Psychology at Athabasca University and Coordinator of the Athabasca’s Certificate in Career Development. He has worked and lived in small towns most of his life.

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