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THE DRIFT 2019: A real-world education

First Nations trainer setting up future drillers for success
Randy Becker, founder and president of Nimkie Mining Services, is blazing a path through the Temagami bush to entice Indigenous people to participate in the exploration sector. (File photo)

Randy Becker relishes the moment of satisfaction when one of his trainees experiences that light-bulb moment.

The seemingly mundane and repetitive series of exercises he puts them through – designed to build those neuropathways to run a bulldozer, or excavator – suddenly kick in, natural ability takes over, and performing a task becomes second nature.

“You can tell, standing back, when these things start to click for them,” said Becker, president of Nimkie Mining Services, a Temagami-based contracting and training services company that caters to the exploration sector.

“Instead of them looking like they’re operating a robot on the fritz, it starts looking like a dinosaur eating dirt.

“The look of accomplishment, pride, and even surprise, on some of the trainees, that’s pretty cool.”

Becker, a member of Temagami First Nation, created Nimkie in 2014 to open up opportunities for Indigenous people to get involved in the mining industry. He has more than 20 years in the mining, construction and civil engineering fields.

Nimkie provides skilled and general labour, with line-cutting, geotech services, core cutting, sampling, mechanical help, and access road construction to exploration companies operating predominately in Northern Ontario and western Québec. But there’s also an employment-readiness element in providing common core training in surface diamond drilling, surface mining, heavy equipment operation, and core tech assistance.

Becker’s training ground is in the bush, at a former aggregate pit on the Temagami Access Road, just off Highway 11, where his other business venture, Gamet Gold Corporation, is conducting exploration.

Through affiliations with Northern College and Asabanaka Drill Services, the on-site training is designed for a well-rounded and immersive experience – complete with site security check-in – in order to make it as realistic as possible.

“You follow the policy and procedures of the mine so when you do get a job, walking through the gate is old hat because they’ve done it for the course. It’s not intimidating or scary.”

Becker walks them through the basic functions at a mine site and explains what everyone’s role is.

“Even if they’re not going underground, they should still know what the headframe is and does, what ventilation does and where it goes.”

Though his training division was launched as a portal to increase First Nation participation in the industry, Becker has since widened his net to include non-Indigenous trainees, including those seeking second careers. The age of trainees can range between 18 and 55.

For the seven-week driller’s helper course, class sizes are kept small – about eight trainees – and intimate, accompanied by three certified instructors.

“You want to make sure the people you’re training are ready to rock and roll,” said Becker.

Once they obtain their common core, they’re slotted into a job placement at Nimkie.

Becker is also out to attract more women to the industry with geotech and core tech assistance courses.

“We’ve trained a couple of people, which we’ve hired, that had absolutely no experience but they had the right attitude. You need that internal motivation. If you have to drag someone down to a course, because there’s (government) funding available, that’s not going to work.

While the exploration industry is in desperate need of drillers, it can be a tough sell as a career choice.

For one, Becker has to advise cell phone-addicted millennials that there’s no Wi-Fi at the drill site during a 12-hour shift.

“You have to pay attention to where your fingers are going.”

In sourcing trainees, Becker looks for some telltale signs that demonstrate someone’s motivation and persistence.

“I get a lot of emails and applications and if people only send in one, I’ll never hear from them again. Those are the people I don’t bother with. If somebody sends me an application and then they contact me a week later, that’s the person that we probably want to work with. 

“If the person really wants it, they show up on time, they ask a lot of questions, they don’t complain about the weather, they’re very involved and you don’t see them sleeping at the back of the class.”

Becker will also travel to deliver his array of training programs at the First Nation community level.

He’ll often stage two-day mining and geology introductory seminars to help Indigenous members obtain their prospector’s licence, become more GPS savvy, provide an overview of how the mining industry works, and, hopefully, generate some interest in his courses.

At the Temagami site, Becker is a director and part-owner of Gamut Gold. The company categorizes itself as a micro miner, similar to a junior miner except that the ore is not processed on site but it is shipped out to a mill.

“It’s easy on investors and to the environment,” said Becker.

Following a sampling program at the Briggs Pit, the company hopes to release a geological report soon on the property’s gold potential.

“We do have gold in the system so that’s really promising,” said Becker, who adds they are definitely in property acquisition mode in eyeing northwestern Ontario and Québec.

As for Nimkie Mining Services, with its core of five employees that expands to as many as 18 for project work, Becker said its future is to evolve into a heavy equipment-based company to the junior mining sector, offering geological core storage and project management services.

“We’ve got a good base of staff and with our training we can always expand that.

The Drift magazine, a new publication from Northern Ontario Business, features profiles on the people and companies making important contributions to the Northern Ontario mining service and supply industry.