Phil Morin is in demand. Mining companies are recruiting worldwide to find skilled workers like him they need to develop projects in remote parts of Canada.
The problem, Morin says, is that they’re hunting in the wrong place. They could more easily solve their shortage if they looked closer to home, hiring and training aboriginals like him, the industrial mechanic said.
Cameco Corp. hired Morin 13 years ago to drive a truck between uranium mines and mills in northern Saskatchewan. With company training, he now has certifications for industrial mechanics and electrical work. About half the company’s 3,300 workforce at its Saskatchewan sites are natives, who are also known as First Nations or Indians.
“That opens a lot of doors not only for yourself but your family’s future, your children’s education,” Morin, 41, who is also head of the local union, said in a phone interview. “I would love to see this grow right across Canada and to help with aboriginal people.”
Cameco is implementing its policies of training and hiring aboriginal workers as the country prepares for C$650 billion ($616 billion) of resource development over the next decade. Projects including Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline have faced resistance from local native groups seeking to win more benefits and prevent environmental damage. Cameco has addressed flooding it experienced at its Cigar Lake mine in 2006. Monitoring ensures that emissions from operations are “well below” allowable limits, according to the company’s website.
Cameco, the world’s third-largest uranium miner, set targets for aboriginal hiring as part of labor practices established decades ago with original land-use agreements to open sites in northern Saskatchewan.
“Cameco has always been held up as a best practice” for other companies, Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said in a phone interview. “Why can’t other companies model that?”
Aboriginals are a large potential labor pool with one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in Canada. The 1.4 million people represent 4.3 percent of the nation’s population according to Statistics Canada. Their communities in many cases are the closest to projects in the resource-rich west and north.
While Saskatchewan had Canada’s lowest jobless rate in October at 3.6 percent, unemployment among the province’s aboriginals is higher — with the Conference Board of Canada estimating it at 15.5 percent in 2011. If aboriginals were involved in the labor force at the same rate as the rest of the population, Saskatchewan’s economy would grow by C$1.8 billion as locals filled 15,000 jobs and eased labor shortages, according to a September Conference Board study.
Canada has turned to foreigners to supply skilled labor, a practice criticized by unions and opposition lawmakers. Companies brought in about 213,600 temporary foreign workers in 2012, a 12 percent jump from the year before, according to the immigration department.
Instead of using out-of-province or foreign workers, other companies should follow Cameco’s efforts to train aboriginals, said Mike Pulak, a United Steelworkers union organizer. “I have my battles with Cameco, but I think they do this very well,” Pulak said by telephone from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where the company is based.
All of Cameco’s entry-level staff in northern Saskatchewan are aboriginals and Cameco is focused on boosting the 30 percent of its skilled-trades employees drawn from the population, said Sean Willy, the company’s director of corporate responsibility.
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