Aboriginal institute trains mining industry workers – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – August 13, 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. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business ianross@nob.on.ca.

Seven Generations Education Institute is seeking to create a home grown workforce to position Aboriginal people in northwestern Ontario to take advantage of coming opportunities in the mining sector.

The Aboriginally run Treaty 3 organization, established in 1978, was the recipient of $5.2 million in federal funding last spring to provide training and real world experience to First Nation, Inuit and Métis participants.

The one-time grant funding will be spread out over 15 months. The money, which arrived last April through Ottawa’s Skills and Partnership Fund, is aimed at skill development of new workers coming into the mining sector and placing them in a position to fill vital support roles as development begins to unfold in the region.

“The goal is not to create miners,” said Brenda Cameron, project coordinator of the Mining Workforce Preparation Program for Seven Generations. “It’s to create a trained Aboriginal workforce where people can secure a job somewhere in the mining industry.

“You need people to staff the offices, build the mines, tradespeople, electricians, first responders and line cooks.” Those skills are also transferrable to other sectors as well.

What’s unique about the program is creating a culture of accountability and responsibility within career-minded individuals that creates a mindset that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

The money allows Seven Generations to address training allowances ($11 an hour), travel, childcare, tuition, and books, all the things that prevent students from finishing their education.

“Specifically, it’s about making training financially viable,” said Cameron, and making school more affordable.

“If they’re not in class, they’re not paid their training allowance. We track attendance because the whole idea is to prepare people for the workforce. We’re not just doing it in terms of (delivering an) education, we’re doing in terms of expectations and conduct; the whole ball of wax.”

Training is spread across Seven Generations’ three campus sites in Kenora, Lac Seul First Nation and Fort Frances.

The courses range from six weeks to two semesters and cover a wide gamut that includes security guard, hospitality for camp services, office administration, culinary skills chef, and the pre-trades areas.

The institute also runs more basic and high school-level courses to encourage young people to get their diploma so as to channel them into various mining and trades programming.

“If you don’t have a diploma, you go into hospitality,” said Cameron. “It’s the difference between making $12 an hour and making $40 an hour.”

In June, 130 participants were enrolled in the program and Cameron was expecting that number to increase to 160 within weeks.

Over the 15-month span that the funding runs, Cameron said the goal is to have 550 Aboriginal people pass through their doors and successfully train a minimum of 315 in the various programs. A more precise number is to eventually have 176 graduates that have secured jobs.

“I think we’re doing phenomenal. The goal was 550 and we’re only six months into the program and we’re very close to meeting that 550, and in term of training (success), we’re close to 100. We’re on target to do that.”

Some of the early graduates from the six-week programs, such as construction craft worker (labourer), found jobs immediately on projects like the reconstruction of the Noden Causeway near Fort Frances.

“We’ve been experiencing some good short-term results,” said Cameron. “But when you’re looking at sustainability, that’s when you’re looking at mining as careers as opposed to short-term employment.”

Seven Generations also works with Sudbury’s Cambrian College to run its Mining Foundations certificate program that began running in late June in Fort Frances.

Through partnerships with area mining companies like Goldcorp and New Gold, the program includes both a field camp and a work placement.