What do we need to do to start a life in the Yukon?
August 2, 2011 5:48 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are starting to think about "restructuring" our life in the next few years: marriage, career changes, and potentially moving to a new city. Help me map out a 5-year plan. A blizzard of snowflakes inside...

My girlfriend and I are both in our late twenties and planning to do the whole "settle down and start a family thing" in the next few years. Before we start with the baby-making, though, we'd like to get a few things in order in terms of our careers and where we're going to be living.

First, the girlfriend would like to live near and, ideally, work in the woods. What sorts of jobs can a lady do in the forest/forest industry that don't involve clearcutting? She's willing to go back to school if necessary, but avoiding the time and expense of doing so would probably be preferred. Right now, she does communications and I've suggested that trying to get into communications with Parks Canada might be a step in the right direction (she has also thought about this). However, what are the odds that a comms officer for Parks would actually be working in or near a National Park, instead of a cubicle in a city somewhere?

I am currently pursuing a master's degree in community studies (via an online program, so I can pick up and move pretty easily without disrupting my education, as long as I am able to continue working and paying my tuition each semester). The longterm goal is to eventually spin the degree into a government (or post-secondary, or non-profit) policy job.

She and I both like having the benefits of a city while still being able to enjoy the outdoors and do woodsy stuff. We've visited the Yukon before and have often talked about moving to Whitehorse. It's got all of your big-city amenities (well, most of them, anyway) and has forests and rivers and mountains in your backyard (literally, depending what part of the city you live in). We're both starting to think that a move up north might be exactly what the doctor ordered -- she'll be able to be practically living in the forest even if she isn't necessarily working in it, and once I finish my education there's a high chance of me getting on with the federal or territorial government, since there seems to be a constant shortage of people willing to live in Canada's far north.

The question, then, is how do we get from here (youngish professionals living in Edmonton, Alberta and not necessarily in the place that we want to be careerwise) to there (having jobs that, if not our ideal, are at least a bit closer to what we think will make us happy, and living in a place that manages to give the best of both urban and rural living (probably Whitehorse, but not necessarily)?

Let's say we want to make a 5-year plan. What steps should we take?
posted by asnider to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd be careful to make the 5 year plan not hinge on things like a certain job, or a certain situation remaining available. Rather, make the five year plan a broad destination and then start super smart habits that would get you there. Organize those habits into specific trajectories that may get you to your destination, but always be thinking of alternative routes. You never know what twists and turns can happen in 5 years.
posted by ian1977 at 6:20 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Some thoughts...some of which may not pertain or it may

Try to keep some money in savings for a new apartment (1st month, last month, deposit, truck rental, etc) so that you can strike when the iron is hot.

Dont burden yourself with unnecessary crapola. Stay limber, like Dangle with his short shorts.

Educate yourself about job market in your selected area. Be THE expert on jobs. Watch the jobs obsessively. Get to the point where you commonly hear yourself saying something like..."oh, this job is back on the market again. I've seen it come and go twice in the past year. Hmm, have to think twice about applying for that position if the time comes"

Ditto craigslist and such. Read the apartment ads and roommate wanted ads. You'll pick up on info about your areas just by reading the ads. Youd be surprised. The places that look nice and have interesting people writing the ads, see where they are on google maps. Patterns will emerge.

Tell people what your plans are. Anyone who cares to listen. You will come across people who know people. Science has shown that 90% of shit that happens happens cuz of people who know people.

Explore all sorts of ways of living. By that I mean...don't get funneled into one way of being. Sure you can buy a house. Or you can rent a apartment. Or you can rent a mobile home. Or you can buy 1 acre and buy a mobile home. Or you can house share. Or you can live in a co-op. Or you could live in a Winnebago. Or you could live in a tree hut. Maybe you wont end up actually doing any of those things....but look into them. You might end up thinking of something you would have never imagined otherwise.
posted by ian1977 at 6:35 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I live in the US, so take my advice with that grain of salt:

I think the best thing the two of you can do is work to get really solid career experience and build excellent skills in the city before you move to a smaller town. This is because employers in the city will be bigger and can give you more opportunity to build skills that will make you more competitive in a small market. I have several friends who have been able to do this successfully.

You say your gf works in communications - can you elaborate? If she has new media/online skills, she may be able to telecommute/work remotely, which can help. If she's looking for a local job, her best bet will be to be very well-rounded so that she could be, say, the local forest protection NGO's "everything communications" person. But if she's interested in working for Parks Canada or a similar agency, she should start researching ASAP and talk to people who work there and find out if that's a viable option for her.

Are you working while you're in school? If so, you might want to see if you can get a job that's at least somewhat relevant to what you'd like to do with the government - even an internship would be useful.

Echoing the advice to start talking to people now. Post something on facebook asking if any of your friends know someone who works for Parks Canada, for instance. This is the best way to answer your questions.

Also, if you can, start saving money so that if one of you gets a job, you can move even if the other doesn't have a job yet. Have a conversation about whether or not you're both ok with this possibility.

Good luck!
posted by lunasol at 7:32 PM on August 2, 2011

My hubby and I did something similar before we started our family. One thing that we didn't give enough attention to was schooling. We have a good house in a crappy school district, which means we have to rethink our financial plan (move or private school?) The reason I bring it up is, if you live in or near the forest, think about where your little ones will go to school. Is it a good district? Is there bus service? How early would they need to catch said bus? Or, would one of you have to drive the opposite direction from work (i.e out of the forest) to take them to school, just to turn around and drive all the way back to work? Would you homeschool (and in that case, would your wife do it? If she would quit her job to be a SAHM/teacher, then what is the point of moving to the forest? Unless it's really her dream, and yours as well). Just another issue to consider.
posted by vignettist at 7:41 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You say your gf works in communications - can you elaborate?

On paper, she primarily does internal communications at the moment, but she has done external stuff as well. I don't think she's done a ton with new media, other than monitoring Twitter, but she is quite familiar with new media tools due to personal usage (and, as I said, some on-the-job use).

In the longer term, she likely wants to move out of communications, but we're both trying to think of ways that she can leverage her current skills to move into a field she will enjoy more in the short term.
posted by asnider at 10:26 PM on August 2, 2011

Response by poster: Are you working while you're in school?

Yes, I am. My current job has some perks related to this, in that they are willing to help pay for some of it and are willing to give me extra vacation time to be used as "homework days." For that reason, I have a bit more loyalty to the company than I otherwise would.

But, I have definitely considered trying to move into a job that is closer to what I hope to be doing once I finish my degree (and, in fact, I've already spoken to an acquaintance who works in the field about what sorts of things they typically look for -- she'll be sending me more information via email in the next little while, so that should be helpful).
posted by asnider at 10:35 PM on August 2, 2011

If you don't have a vehicle with 4WD or AWD, think about buying one where you are. You'll probably get a much better deal. You'll be okay with a 2WD and good snow tires, but if you have a 4WD you'll be a lot less stressed out in the wintertime, and you can go visit friends who live off dirt roads that don't get plowed (or live off a dirt road yourself). It makes a huge difference.

Best times to move will be May-September, preferably June-August. You don't want to move in the winter if you can help it.

Whitehorse seems like a nice town. Get in the habit of reading the area newspaper to get a feel for what it's like as far as festivals, local events, concerns and problems.
posted by griselda at 10:44 PM on August 2, 2011

My wife and I have been doing this exact thing in Banff the past three years. Mefimail me for details.
posted by furtive at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2011

I can't say much about the regions and industries you mention, but there are several things I would advise anyone to do to get started with personal planning.

First of all, know who you are, individually and as a couple. You are each unique individuals with talents and weaknesses, preferences and aversions. You as a couple also have an "identity" usually derived from how you most naturally share your lives together, how you balance each other, and how your talents combine to affect the world. You need to explicitly determine these things because that brings integrity to your planning. Your plan should acknowledge and complement who you are, both as individuals and as a couple.

Then, if you are planning, don't look five years out. Look 20 or more years out. If you are talking about marriage and kids, sounds like you're in it for a long haul. So envision what you want to be when you are both old and your kids are grown. What kind of kids did you have and how did they turn out? What kind of relationship and life do you have. What will you talk about and do together? How will the world be a better place because of you and your family? That kind of thing. Thinking always with the desired end in mind will give your planning a vision to guide it.

Then you can look five years out and say, "what could we be doing to be five years closer to where we ultimately want to be?" You want to be healthy when you're old, so what kind of habits do you want to cultivate? You want to still love each other, so what can you be doing to work (and it takes intentional work) on your marriage? You want to be connected to your community, so what would that look like? You have plans for a certain level of income, lifestyle, and work/parenthood/life balance... That kind of thing.

Specifics about where, what, who and when will come from these if you lay them out first.
posted by cross_impact at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the very good advice, so far, folks. Keep it coming!
posted by asnider at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2011

There are policy jobs in Whitehorse: there's a territorial government there and many federal agencies have regional offices that have policy functions. However, there would be a priority on hiring people who understand issues of particular relevance to the community and region: northern development, challenges facing aboriginal people in northern settings, the local political arena, etc. Certainly, there would be government communications jobs in Whitehorse. (Yellowknife might also provide a lot of what you're looking for and would give you another option.)

Parks Canada, unfortunately, is in the process of downsizing and PSAC has noted that this is having a major effect on equity projections as park wardens was one of the fields where the proportion of women was growing the most. That's not to say that there are no opportunities, but competition will be pretty fierce here.

Even if you're not ready to apply yet, both you and your girlfriend should have a profile on jobs.gc.ca (you can select locations) which will give you an idea of how many federal jobs are being advertized in the locations you want. Scan the territorial and city government sites as well. It will give you some ideas of what's possible. Private sector activity is still heavily in resource extraction and tourism. I'm not going to speak to that as much simply because I'm less familiar with the private sector than the public.
posted by Kurichina at 1:06 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW I think the most difficult practical aspect of this is going to be housing. Unless the market has changed substantially in the last two years, it seems mega scarce and not so much online. I imagine there's some sort of catch that makes not having a local job harder to get a local place, and not having a local place, etc.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: FWIW I think the most difficult practical aspect of this is going to be housing. Unless the market has changed substantially in the last two years, it seems mega scarce and not so much online.

Luckily, I do know at least one person in Whitehorse, so I could enlist her aid in watching the classifieds for me. The plan, I think, would be to buy a place pretty quickly (the housing market looks not nearly as scarce as the rental market, based on a cursory glance at the MLS), but odds are that we'd need to rent for at least a few months while we got established, so this is valuable information.
posted by asnider at 4:20 PM on August 3, 2011

Anyone who sets their heart and mind to settling and being successful in Whitehorse will achieve their goal.

As with any place it has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages = higher than national average salaries; ability to learn an organization and move up through the ranks; juxtaposition of the community of Whitehorse to the forest, mountains, rivers and lakes; friendly, young, population (with more than a few hipsters and artists); great health care and unbelievably fantastic hospital, and the lower than expected cost of food and other daily supplies. Disadvantages = it can certainly be tricky to find a house but many do succeed and settle quickly; housing prices are rising but on par with places like Winnipeg and Hamilton; the days are dark in the winter but when the sun comes out it is glorious; doing a road trip in the winter may be a bit too much for many - flying is typically the only way out.

This may sound slightly ironic, coming from a Risk Manager, but I'm of the firm opinion that you should just jump and grow your wings on the way back down to earth. I have been making huge moves since I was 20 years old that I have never really planned. This has opened the door to many more life experiences that I could have ever dreamed. That sounds a bit cliche I know, but I don't think I even knew what a Risk Manager was when I left University. There is plenty of time for you and your partner to get structure. Now is the time to take a few risks!!! I'm not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind or come up here, find yourself a stray dog and walk around with it on a string, whilst you camp in a tent on the grounds of the legislature. I'm simply suggesting that you are probably much closer than you think to moving if that is where your heart is - you need to follow what you are feeling and act on instinct sometimes. You will encounter some set backs along the way. You may need to work outside of your area for a while. But, once you get here and get your ear to the ground you will start to hear of options. The BEST thing you could do would be to get in the casual pool for the Hospital, the Territorial and Federal Government. BTW, I knew the communications officer for Parks Canada - great jig but she ended up leaving the position to follow another path in life.

I have not, for one moment, regretted our leap of faith to come here. My husband was unemployed at the time and found work within 6 weeks. My children were experiencing their second move in one year, both of which were in excess of 3 000 km. They settled in almost immediately and have been overwhelmed by all of the options open to them. The school system has exceeded our expectations with excellent, caring and dedicated teachers. It has literally been the best move of our lives.

Will we stay here forever? Well...I doubt it. Settling is not in our nature but I expect we will be here for longer than we have lived in other places.

Good luck.
posted by YukonQuirm at 7:33 AM on August 4, 2011

Response by poster: YukonQuirm - What was your housing situation when you first arrived? Were you renting? Are you currently renting or did you buy a place pretty quickly after moving up?

And, if you were renting, how did you find a place to rent? Based on some of the answers in this thread, it looks like finding Whitehorse rental listings online isn't particularly easy.
posted by asnider at 2:07 PM on August 4, 2011

I bought straight away. The company flew me up for a sight visit and I fell in love immediately. I met a great real estate agent and we looked around a bit. I gave her firm instructions regarding what I was looking for and she really went to work for me. She also had good contacts and links for temporary accomodation. As it happens I ended up living with her in a vacant house that needed some house sitting for a month until my house was available to move into.

Rentals can be a challenge from what I've heard. I've also seen and heard people needing to get good people into homes temporarily. I've been trying to find someone to house sit for the month that we are going away and it hasn't really been all that easy. I've seen notices up around my place of work for people either offering to house sit or being available for house sitting gigs. I believe their is also a website for this sort of thing that I could send on but I need to dig a little more.

You know me.
posted by YukonQuirm at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2011

Response by poster: You know me.

Yeah, I know. And I was actually thinking about emailing you instead of posting my follow-up question here, but then I figured that there is a chance someone else is looking for the same information.
posted by asnider at 6:48 PM on August 4, 2011

That's nearly clandestine of you Adam - people will talk.
posted by YukonQuirm at 8:10 PM on August 4, 2011

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