Development of the Ring of Fire mineral deposits may have slowed to a crawl, but progress is being made in the preparations to train up a future workforce.
Geraldton, the largest town in the rural municipality of Greenstone, has branded itself as the “Gateway to the Ring of Fire” and has positioned itself as a future staging and training base for those Far North mining projects.
At the Geraldton airport, construction of a regional skills training centre began last October with the building being mostly enclosed in January by the time the provincial and federal governments announced they were each chipping in $1.75 million for the project.
Ron Melhuish, the centre’s skills coordinator, said the 13,500-square-foot building should be ready by mid-August, in time for a September ribbon-cutting.
The centre will house 10 training rooms, meeting rooms, a computer lab and offices for 27 staff.
The not-for-profit Geraldton Community Forest is supplying $500,000 for the centre and will run it.
A particular focus is providing dedicated training for area Aboriginal people and getting them ready for both the mining and the rebounding forestry industries.
While activity in the Far North has cooled, Melhuish said there’s going to be an eventual need for heavy equipment operators to build roads and infrastructure first, before developing any mines.
“At that time this (building project) was going forward, the Ring of Fire was hot to trot,” said Melhuish. “Quite frankly, I don’t think this building would’ve been built if not for the Ring of Fire.”
While the preparatory construction and actual mining in the James Bay lowlands may be years away, Melhuish said Premier Gold, a Thunder Bay junior miner, is edging closer to making a production decision on its Trans-Canada Project near Geraldton.
“That will probably bear fruit before the Ring of Fire.”
Some of the centre’s initial programming will be short courses in things like first aid, forest firefighter training, chainsaw basics, WHMIS, and transportation of dangerous goods.
Other courses could take as long as two years, especially if some enrollees need upgrading to reach Grade 12 equivalency.
“There’s a whole pathway to employment that we’ve developed,” said Melhuish.
He suspects many of the students will probably be Second Career candidates who are retraining for new jobs.
When the forestry industry tanked a few years ago, much of the area’s experienced workforce left for Alberta and mines at Detour Lake and Attawapiskat, leaving Greenstone with a real skills deficiency in the 25 to 50 age bracket.
Melhuish is working to source equipment and the teaching tools needed so that college and university instructors can stage courses in Geraldton rather than have older students travel to Hearst, Thunder Bay or elsewhere to receive training.
What colleges and universities will deliver specific training modules has yet to be officially decided. For now, the centre’s organizational working group is taking “baby steps” in curriculum development, said Melhuish.
“I’d be really happy if we have two programs going in September and build from there.”