An Aboriginal training program in
northwestern Ontario is making strides to address a looming labour
shortfall in the mining industry.
Optimism is peaking in the region that
there will be a cluster of major mining camps developing over the
next 10 years, but in the Thunder Bay area alone, the mining industry
will require between 1,110 and 4,150 workers.
Where those workers will come from is
One possible source for underground
workers is from the Mining Essentials program being run through the
Anishinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS) in Thunder Bay.
Mining Essentials is the only work
readiness training program for Aboriginal people in Canada.
It was developed in concert with the
Assembly of First Nations and the Mining Industry Human Resources
Council (MiHR), with curriculum input from educators and industry.
“Mining Essentials is a stepping
stone to get entry level jobs,” said John DeGiacomo, the proposal
and partnership development officer with AETS.
His organization serves nine First
Nations, northeast of Thunder Bay, all in the vicinity of Barrick's
Hemlo Gold complex and more advanced projects like Stillwater
Mining's Marathon PGM project and Premier Gold in Geraldton.
Some mining companies are willing to
assist with training with the intent on hiring locally. In some First
Nation communities, about 60 per cent of the population is under the
age of 25 and is looking for work.
“Industry has a chance to help First
Nations that perhaps didn't have that opportunity before to
further their education,” said DeGiacomo.
With government seed money, the Mining
Essentials program has been run at three training sites:
Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Northern College in
Timmins, and at Northwest Community College in Hazelton, B.C.
In northwestern Ontario, Barrick Gold
at Hemlo and North American Palladium's Lac des Iles Mine are the
Since the program began as a pilot in
2010, AETS has graduated 22 of the 77 graduates in Canada, with more
expected this April coming out of a class at Lac des Iles, north of
John Hatton, Confederation's training
and development director, emphasizes this is not a job-shadowing
Those that complete the common core
training are qualified to work underground.
The 12-week program involves two-thirds
classroom work, with the rest on the job site.
“When they finish this they can start
work at any mine,” said Hatton.
With a Grade 12 minimum requirement,
prospective enrollees are interviewed and screened for criminal
records, and drug and alcohol tested in keeping with the
industry's strict zero tolerance policy.
The Lac des Iles class features two
instructors, one Aboriginal educator contracted through Confederation
College and a technical trainer from North Bay mine builders,
Howard Twance, a former Pic Mobert
First Nation chief, has been paired with skills trainer Gerry
Connors, a 30-year mining vet, to certify the students for
Twance handles the in-class
instruction while Connors introduces them to the various skills
and tools underground.
Twance said his exposure to the mining
industry was limited when he was younger. Barrick Gold's Hemlo
complex is about a half-hour drive from his community, but many
Pic Mobert residents work there, and Twance has engaged with the area
mining companies on employment and impact benefit agreements.
“We were looking for someone who can
relate to the students,” said Hatton. “He has a teaching
background and can deliver the curriculum and show them the
“The main goal is to provide
Aboriginal people with the skills and confidence needed in the
mining workforce,” said Twance, “and provide industry with a
“It's a nationally validated
pre-employment program, and a course designed with the
Aboriginal learner in mind. They’ve incorporated a cultural
content into the program.”The content is adapted from an Aboriginal
reference tool – the Medicine Wheel – in substituting the four
aspects of life – the physical, mental, spirtual and emotional
portions – for that of trainers, learners, the industry environment
and the curriculum.
At Lac des Iles, the instructors stay
with the students at the work camp as part of the regular one-week
Over the last few weeks, Twance has
observed the program has done wonders for the students’
confidence and self-esteem.
“I see them interacting with the
workers, they're better able to ask questions, and they express
that they’re comfortable up there.”
Hatton admits it’s not easy to train
people in real world environments.
To convince mining companies to allow
trainees on their properties requires some hard negotiating. But
companies like Barrick-Hemlo and North American Palladium
have “stepped up to the plate,” he said.“For them to have us on
site is a pain in the butt. We interfere with their day-to-day work,
having people underground is a safety hazard and it might interfere
with production. They're also a partner in kind by providing
accommodations, meals and support to run the program.”While
companies do acknowledge the current and long-term shortfall in
labour, not all are jumping at the chance to host students,
“Lac des Iles was a bit hesitant
going in but they realized it was important for them to do so, so
they’ve been very supportive.”
DeGiacomo said the program builds a
base of education and an awareness of the industry. If some students
decide they aspire to be a trainer, work in human resources or
an assay lab, drive a heavy haul truck, or go to school to be a
chemical engineer, then those are successes too.
While the funding pot to continue the
Mining Essentials program has run dry – pending renewed provincial
and federal government support – DeGiacomo said regardless of the
funding puzzle, the curriculum model will constantly be updated.
“This is still a program that needs
some traction...it's still new.”
He expects industry should start to see
the tangible benefits with successive graduating classes over the
next four to five years.
“Mining Essentials is a tool that
First Nations can use to help ensure that the skills gap is narrowed.
When you look at impact benefit agreements with communites and
industry, employment is a feature of that agreement. This is a
tool that can be used in those negotiations.”
Twance said the industry's co-operation
with the program makes a “huge difference” in generating
employment and educational opportunities for First Nations, a
far cry from when he was chief in the mid-1990s.
Mining Essentials represents a “big
turning point” for area First Nations and offers “limitless
potential” for folks in the nine communities.
“It’s up to the communities to
determine how they’re going to take advantage of this.”