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Inuit jobs on the radar screen

A $300-million Northern defence contract presses training

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Apr 01/02) - More than 100 Inuit jobs linked to a $600-million contract are just off the radar screen.

"Our ultimate goal is to have 50 per cent of the 225 positions filled by Inuit employees," said president of Nasittuq Corporation Ivan Wawryk. But when that target might be hit is a question that can't be answered.

"Within five years might be a difficult objective," he said.

Wawryk was referring to a deal that's part of a five-year North Warning System maintenance renewal contract between the Canadian government and Nasittuq Corporation, a 50 per cent joint venture between ATCO Frontec Corp. and Pan Arctic Inuit Logistics (PAIL) Corporation.

Right now only 40 of 225 people working on the defence system are Inuit even though the job goal has been in place since 1994. That's when ATCO first teamed up with PAIL on the contract that covers management, operation and maintenance of 47 unattended radar sites and five logistics sites across the North.

Between 1995 and 2001, 120 people were trained in an entry-level training program. Even though 90 per cent of those people are still working, only 25 are with the North Warning System. The problem seems to be the low attrition rate.

"We don't want to get into the position where we are displacing people," said Wawryk.

But an Inuit training and development program that's worth $1 million annually might get Inuit in the doors of other employers if openings don't come up at Nasittuq.

The North Warning System was originally awarded to ATCO Frontec in 1988. It was renewed in 1994 with PAIL as the joint-venture partner. Now the joint venture is called Nasittuq.

The new contract has a few changes that are supposed to make it easier for Inuit to land good jobs with the North Warning System.

Seven people are learning in a new development program that offers a chance to apprentice for a ticketed skill -- like an electrician, mechanic or a buyer. The old contract had a six- to 18-month junior training program that will be continued. There are seven trainees still involved in that.

"This new contract represents an increased opportunity for participation by the Inuit not only at the shareholder level but at an equity level by being half owners of the contract," said Wawryk.

An aboriginal training program is meant to draw Inuit from Labrador, Nunavik, Nunavut and the NWT Inuvialuit Settlement Region and double the venture's number of Inuit employees. Eighty-three people have already graduated from the existing training program.

Despite the employment push, non-Inuit won't lose their jobs to make room for new Inuit hires.

"As openings occur we make the total effort to replace with Inuit people," Wawryk said explaining that advertising will help Inuit access vacancies. But 50 per cent Inuit isn't the set in stone. "It's about attracting people who are interested in participating in this project and who want to make the commitment to accomplish the training."

The operation expenses of the North Warning military defence system are shared between the American government at 60 per cent and 40 per cent by Canada. But Canada has the responsibility for the management of the system. If the $300-million contract is renewed after the first five years the deal could be worth $606 million over 10 years.

Atco Frontec is part of the Atco Group. It is involved in power generation, utilities, logistics and technology.

PAIL is jointly owned by the Inuit of four settlement regions in the North and is mandated to promote financial self-sufficiency of Inuit people.