Young French-speakers are leaving the territory.
But one group is working to make the Yukon a more hospitable place for them.
An initiative called Place aux Jeunes Yukon — translated as the place for youth — is the l’Association franco-Yukonnaise’s latest attempt at addressing the exodus.
Many French-speakers finish high school only to leave in pursuit of a post-secondary education in other provinces.
Once they have completed their studies, they don’t see the Yukon as providing them real employment opportunities, said Place aux Jeunes migration officer Thierry Haddad in an interview Monday.
“So they settle down where they are and don’t come back.”
And that means the French-speaking population, as a group, is getting older every year.
While the overall Yukon french-speaking population remained relatively stable at about 1,125 between 1996 and 2001, the average age of the French-speaking population jumped by 5.4 years, according to a report commissioned by the association’s economic development sector in May 2003.
The average age went from 37 to 42.2 years old in the span of five years.
While the 2006 census results are yet to be released, the association fears this trend is continuing.
Finally this year it decided to do something about it.
“Our mandate has two parts,” said Haddad.
“The first is to encourage the return of French-speaking Yukoners who left the territory for post-secondary education.
“The second is to provide information and career opportunities to young French-speakers who want to move to the Yukon.”
It’s not as easy at it sounds, he said.
Since its creation in May, Place aux Jeunes has been diligently compiling a list of names of all the French-speaking youth that have left the territory to pursue an education or entrepreneurial opportunities Outside.
It has been trying to find out where they went, what they are doing, what their career plans are, and determine if this corresponds with the needs of the market in the Yukon.
Then comes the difficult part.
“We have to convince them that the Yukon has the same opportunities, or better, than what they can find elsewhere,” said Haddad.
Once the initial research and strategy is finalized, the organization will begin contacting those young people who have left and keep them up to date with what employment options could be available to them if they were to return home.
Then, of course, there’s the second part of the Place aux Jeunes’ mandate: to find new recruits.
The best way to make contacts is to get in touch with French-Canadians who are visiting the Yukon over the summer, said Haddad.
Then, when the summer ends and they go back home, stay in touch and let them know about job opportunities for them if they come back.
The organization also plans on conducting a promotional tour to universities and colleges across the country before the year’s end.
“We will primarily be focusing on schools in BC and Alberta, but hope to extend that to Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces,” said Haddad.
The representatives will make presentations and try to network with the French-speaking students who are still deciding on where they want to pursue their careers.
The campaign includes a website as well as a regular newsletter with information about available jobs, cultural activities and housing.
“We need to dispel the notion that the Yukon has a poor economy,” said Haddad. “There is a booming economy and a big shortage of qualified bilingual workers in several industries.”
The biggest potential employers are in health, social services, construction and translation services.
Of course, a large part of its efforts will be focused on youth currently living in the territory.
One program that’s in the works is called Accro Ado (Hooked on Teens) for French-speaking kids aged 14 to 17.
It would offer activities for the kids and help them decide on what career they might be interested in pursuing in the future.
For French-speakers of all ages the Place aux Jeunes provides an entrepreneurial service, which gives advice on how to start a business.
And there will be another service called Atelier Exploratoire (Exploration Workshop), where those with university and college degrees or other professional training can connect to potential employers.
The Yukon organization got the idea for the programs from similar ones launched 15 years ago in Quebec to keep youth from leaving their home communities.
Place aux Jeunes Quebec helped the Association franco-Yukonnaise establish the sister branch and continues to support it.
The local branch employs Haddad as the one full-time staff member, and two part-timers Sylvie Geoffroy and Charles LeBarge, and staffers from other departments also pitch in.
All French-speaking youth are invited to a social evening on Friday, July 28 at Chadburn Lake where Place aux Jeunes will make a presentation and host a barbecue.
Transportation will be provided after Café Rencontre at the Francophone Centre, which begins at 7 p.m.
To find out more about Place aux Jeunes Yukon, visit its temporary website at www.rdee-yukon.ca/jeunesse/place.htm or contact Haddad at 668-2663 ext 434.