Start them young.
It's the rationale behind a recruiting tool designed to attract more Aboriginal youth into mineral exploration and mining careers.
With mining companies preparing big plans for development in the James Bay 'Ring of Fire,' training a local workforce for the future to build and service these developments is of paramount importance.
To get a head start, Sudbury's Cambrian College and the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster Council (OMICC) have collaborated to take a fresh and long-term approach to keep the pipeline of skilled workers filled for generations to come.
Part of their strategy is to give career guidance to young people on what kind of jobs are available in the mining sequence, beginning at the prospecting stage and following through to mine development.
This spring, an interactive website will be launched in tandem with printed material targeting seventh and eighth graders.
“We target that market because they're starting to make decisions about courses and directions to take in high school,” said Joyce Helmer, chairman of the Wabnode Centre for Aboriginal Services at Sudbury's Cambrian College.
Cambrian developed these educational modules which will be ready by March. The materials were developed from an Aboriginal perspective.
The Earth Series print material and a Mining in Mind interactive website will map out what kind of jobs are available and what skills are needed.
“This tool is holistic and tied to the natural world,” said OMICC executive director Indira Singh.
Singh said for Aboriginal communities to comprehend and be more responsive to what mining and exploration is all about, they must understand what jobs are available.
Marketing these careers to elementary-aged schoolchildren came out of OMICC and its Aboriginal working committee.
Cambrian president Sylvia Barnard, an OMICC member, suggested the Wabnode Centre for Aboriginal Services take up the cause and they came up with the Earth Series theme.
The college has been quietly working on this project for two years with feedback and insight from Aboriginal youth, communities and elders.
“The community consultation and the validation of the material was quite lengthy,” said Helmer. “There was no point in announcing anything until we received sanction from the Aboriginal community that this is something that will work and make a difference.”
Job cards identify 85 careers covering the entire gamut of the industry such as metallurgy, health and safety, trucking, crane operation, production, accounting, human resources and public affairs.
“The concept focuses around the values of Aboriginal people and the connection to the land that everything comes from the Earth,” said Helmer.
The resource material will accompany Cambrian recruiters when they take to the road this spring for career fairs and presentations.
Aboriginal human resource development is very hot topic among mining companies and colleges in Northern Ontario with many initiatives underway.
“We are the largest population coming into the educational sector,” said Helmer. “We have to be able to prepare culturally for that population to come in, but we also need to prepare industry as well.”
Helmer said the industry must develop a cultural understanding and sensitivity for this potentially burgeoning workforce.
Despite a sluggish economy, one report said there is, and will continue to be, competition for skilled labour in the mining industry. Last August, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council said through attrition and regular movement in the labour market, Ontario's mining sector will need 11,300 new workers over the next decade.
In January, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry committed $22,000 for the Earth Series and web resource materials. Other funders, such as FedNor and OMICC are also expected to make investments.