In northwestern Ontario, mining companies struggling to find skilled workers may soon have a new recruitment ally on their side, and it comes in a most non-traditional package: a videogame.
Thunder Bay's Oshki-Pimache-O-Win Education & Training Institute (OSHKI) has commissioned Algoma Games for Health (AGFH) in Sault Ste. Marie to develop an online videogame that will grab the attention of First Nations youth, in an effort to translate their heightened interest into careers in the mining industry.
OSHKI serves the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a collection of 49 First Nation communities located throughout the region.
Gordon Kakegamic, OSHKI’s e-learning co-ordinator, said information about the mining industry on the internet often uses tech-based language and ideologies, which is difficult for the average youth reader to understand.
“We want to present that same kind of information in a different approach using methods that gamers use,” he said. “There are different strategies that programmers use to interact and engage people, and we’re trying to apply those same principles to the portal. It makes learning fun.”
First Nations workers comprise an untapped demographic the mining companies have, to date, been unsuccessful accessing, said Jason Naccarato, interim CEO at AGFH.
“From what the industry has relayed to us, in their eyes they have been unsuccessful in the past, going into remote areas and convincing the locals to become engaged and to come work for the project,” Naccarato said. “They think they can do better, and this is one of the steps they’d like to take to try to do better.”
The web portal will act as a “front office” for companies to relay their message, while appealing to youth in a teen-friendly package.
“One of the difficulties for the mining companies is they need a lot of workers, but the people who are living up there and who are most accessible for those businesses might not even be aware of what those opportunities are,” explained Dwayne Hammond, the studio’s director. “They might not know how to go about getting those jobs, like what education you need, what steps might you need to take to take advantage of the opportunities that are in your neighbourhood.”
The game, which is about half complete, is themed around mining and First Nations culture. Students who go to the site to play will be exposed to terminology, equipment and processes common to the industry.
There is also realistic content, including job and company profiles. Hammond compares it to the information students would learn if they were to visit their high school guidance counsellor.
Goldcorp has come on board as a “subject matter expert” to ensure the message of the mining industry is relayed. Last summer, video producers with Cambrian College’s eDome travelled to Goldcorp’s Musselwhite Mine to interview workers about their jobs and educational requirements.
“Originally, it was eight volunteers, but as soon as people heard what we were doing, it got up to 20 volunteers,” Kakegamic said. “So there’s a lot of people who are working in the mining industry who want to share their experiences with the youth.”
Once incorporated into the portal, the video will bring the mine to the youth, so they can decide whether it’s the right career path for them.
“As companies and organizations begin to target generation X and generation Y more and more as their target groups, the way you try and interact with your groups has to change,” Naccarato said.
Working within the education sector is a departure for AGFH, which has, until now, focused on projects within health care. Naccarato said the organization is aiming to engage more with that sector, and the OSHKI project will help facilitate that transition.
OSHKI also envisions a wider application for the technology. Though the portal will initially be promoted to NAN communities through a poster campaign, Kakegamic said OSHKI hopes to promote the portal to all First Nations in Northern Ontario.
He sees it as a great tool for empowering and engaging youth, as well as a social responsibility initiative for mining companies.
“I think we have to break that stigma—a lot of youth think of mining as just a big, black hole in the ground,” Kakegamic said. “You don’t have to work underground; you can work in administration, you can work in IT. There are so many different places you can work on the surface on a mine site, so we’re trying to get that across to the youth.”
The portal’s launch date is April 2013.