June/July 2012

Skilled builder

Leanne Hall | Vice-president, human resources, Noront Resources Ltd.

By Eavan Moore

When Leanne Hall takes on an assignment, she does two things: “I always look at it from the eyes of different stakeholders,” she says, “and I always try to leave places in a better position than where I originally found them.”

These approaches have shaped her career in human resources and corporate social responsibility, which is now focused on developing the workforce to support Noront Resources’ Eagle’s Nest mine, currently under development in northern Ontario. Prior to joining Noront, Hall headed Woodland HR Inc. in northern Alberta, where she seized on the skills shortage and the province’s privatization and expansion of its career and employment services to carve out a niche for herself. “At the end of 14 years, we had assisted over 20,000 people in northern Alberta with their career and employment goals,” she says.

Hall explains that she used a “grassroots” approach. It involved meeting one-on-one and asking people what they had always dreamed of doing, uncovering their skills and talents, developing a career plan, and matching them with employment that could fulfill those dreams. In an economy where cyclical oil prices hit hard at times, she says, it’s important to love what one does; that is what makes it possible to thrive. Having a career plan not only helps achieve this, it aids retention at companies that smooth their employees’ path to advancement.

Woodland’s operations included specialty work placement, on-the-job training and mentorship programs with Aboriginal and Métis youth. Her background prompted Noront Resources to invite her onto its First Nations Advisory Council. “I found the work so incredibly innovative and meaningful with Noront,” she remembers, “that I said, ‘you know, I’d like to join this team.’”

For the past two years, she has been working to build a local workforce in the area that hosts the nickel-copper Eagle’s Nest mine and the enormous chromite deposit that Noront also hopes to develop in the future. To her, it makes business sense to combat the vast labour shortage by focusing on engaging a local workforce from the North, which is largely comprised of First Nations communities.

“What Aboriginal inclusion really means is that you are interested in developing and nurturing genuine relationships,” she says, ones that address the needs of everyone involved. Among its many community investment initiatives, the company has formed community-based scholarship committees with the local First Nations. The Webequie committee found the majority of high school graduates were not pursuing post-secondary education. It was too overwhelming for youth to move to a big city and be disconnected from their family and community. In response, Noront approached Confederation College, which created a pilot program to mentor these students as they began their transition to college in Thunder Bay.

Hall is optimistic about her next several years of career-building and economic development work around the prospective Eagle’s Nest mine. Noront’s initial workforce planning suggests there is a good match between the mine’s needs and the interests of neighbouring community members. Eighty-five per cent of the available jobs will range from low- to mid-skilled work to the skilled trades, meaning a degree or highly specialized training is not required. “At the same time,” she cautions, “it is important to recognize that everyone has different career interests and it is important to work with individuals on their career progression plans.”

Cooks, diesel mechanics, nurses, tree planters, and environmental monitors all have places within a mining operation. From exploration through closure, predicts Hall, Noront will afford opportunities to pursue every one of the more than 120 career paths identified by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. “There really is an opportunity for everybody,” she says.

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