June/July 2012

Mine Training Society perseveres

Partners help avert financial crisis despite funding loss

By Krystyna Lagowski

Since 2004, the Mine Training Society (MTS), which operates out of Yellowknife, has partnered with Aboriginal governments, industry partners, the government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government to train Aboriginal individuals for mining jobs.

MTS has assessed 1,900 Aboriginal people over the past eight years, training and/or counseling 1,300 and obtaining employment for 737. “These are jobs like underground miner, mineral processor, camp cook, diamond driller, mine administration – not entry level jobs,” stresses MTS general manager Hilary Jones.

Federal funding cuts

In March 2012, when the federal government ended a significant source of funding – the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership program – Jones did not panic. She knew it was time to get creative, and started to look for alternatives. She is committed to keeping the program, which won PDAC’s Special Achievement Award for 2012.

“Currently I’m working on a proposal to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC),” Jones says. “Each training-to-employment project can receive up to $10 million [from HRSDC]; right now, our project is looking to cost $16.5 million, so our partners are giving us the other $7 million.”

These partners include BHP Billiton, Diavik, DeBeers Canada, Avalon Rare Metals and Tamerlane Ventures, as well as Aboriginal governments including the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Inuvialuit, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, the NWT Métis Nation, the Tlicho government and the Akaitcho.

Jones says the funding from industry and government partners will give her a two-year reprieve, so MTS can continue doing what it does best: train Aboriginal people for mining jobs. “There are three existing mines and six advanced stage projects [in the NWT]; two are going into construction next year, so we need a lot of people,” she adds.

She says it is not cheap to train an underground miner, but that cost is offset because the trained graduates find meaningful jobs with the mines, which fund the training, almost immediately. And as a bonus to government, “they become taxpayers quickly.” The program costs $53,000 per person; the training lasts 32 weeks, which includes a six-week community-based introduction, 12 weeks in Yellowknife at the training facility and 12 weeks of on-site training. “That’s more than a thousand dollars a week to train one person,” Jones explains. “It’s a very skilled occupation – this isn’t pick and shovel anymore. You’re dealing with computers and $6-million trucks.”

She adds that the completion success rate of the underground mining program is nearly 100 per cent, of which 90 per cent are offered employment at the end of their training.

Training done right

MTS takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to training. “We do career counselling to ensure people are successful,” explains Jones. “We don’t want to set people up for failure.” If someone does not qualify for a program, MTS will work with the interested party to identify where the gaps are in their skills, referring them to other organizations for literacy training or even medical counselling.

The most popular program is the underground mining program, for which candidates are hand-selected. “We go out into the communities and do an introduction to underground mining, where we do two weeks of job-readiness skills, and four weeks of mining education about subjects like geology and safety,” she says.

To help prepare families, MTS involves the students’ significant others to improve their understanding of the mining schedule, which includes shift rotation. They also discuss the reality of having a partner away for two weeks at a time. “There has to be an honest conversation about who’s going to look after the firewood and what they’re going to do with the money,” says Jones. “By the time they finish that six-week session, they can make an informed choice as to whether they want to proceed.”

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