Northern College Aboriginal grads working in mining – by Lindsay Kelly (Northern Ontario Business – February 6, 2014)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. 

Northern College is experiencing another successful milestone in its legacy of miner training: nearly all recent graduates of its hard rock miner common core program are working, two-thirds of which have found employment in the Kirkland Lake area.

The success is thanks to a partnership between the college and AuRico Gold, which operates the Young-Davidson Mine 60 kilometres west of Kirkland Lake. Though the college has offered similar programs through partnerships with other mining companies in the past, this program is unique in that it was funded by the Mushkegowuk and Wabun Tribal councils and geared specifically towards Aboriginal students.

“With all the opportunities in mining and all the IBAs (impact benefit agreements), there are new opportunities there for the Aboriginal communities that weren’t there in the past,” said Bob Mack, Northern College’s vice-president of community, business development and employment services.

Of the graduates, half have been hired by AuRico Gold at the Young-Davidson Mine, while one student was hired by Taurus Drilling, a contractor that works with AuRico, and another opted to return to the college to study full time in the electrical engineering technician program.

Common core training is mandatory for all underground miners in Ontario and includes including drilling, mucking, blasting, scaling, rock bolting, slushing, tramming, timbering and ventilation.

Only six students are accepted into a program at any given time for health and safety reasons, Mack said, and 90 per cent of the training during the 12-week program takes place underground. Students in the AuRico program spent two weeks at Northern College getting trained in health and safety and basic underground work practices and another 10 weeks at Young-Davidson.

Mack said a benefit to working so close with the mining companies is that supervisors are always talking to students and instructors, getting a feel for a student’s abilities and skill sets; at the end of the program, they already have a good idea of who they’re going to hire.

“It’s almost like a 12-week interview process,” Mack said.

Northern College has longstanding, ongoing relationships with Goldcorp in Timmins and Richmont Mines in Dubreuilville, and has also partnered with Kirkland Lake Gold, Armistice and St Andrew Goldfields, in addition to the most recent AuRico agreement.

And until June, when the price of gold dropped to $1,200 per ounce, almost all students were getting work at the end of their training. When the market was high, Northern couldn’t put out enough graduates to fill the vacancies, Mack said.

Partnerships have been particularly beneficial in Dubrueilville, where Richmont has seen an increase in retention of its workers since the collaboration began, he said.

Before starting up the partnership, 70 per cent of Richmont’s workforce came from Sudbury or Quebec, and when opportunities came up elsewhere, those workers would return to their home communities. “So what we do now is we try to draw from Dubreuilville, Wawa and White River and that area,” Mack said. “And now, over that two-and-ahalf, three-year period, 70 per cent are from the local area, so their attrition rate has gone down dramatically and they’re not constantly hiring and training.”

Following up three and six months after the students graduate, Mack said the school finds that the majority of students is still working in the area where they completed their training. People in Dubreuilville live in the area and want to remain there to work.

The majority of students’ positions are funded by the Second Career program, and Mack said it’s nice to see students who have had some struggle—laid off from work or living with a low income—start to see the benefits of the agreements.

“It’s really encouraging,” he said. “It feels good when you see people turning their lives around.”