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Mines find hiring Northern workers difficult
Socio-economic agreement targets tough to hit, says mine training society

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, January 5, 2013

NWT mines may not be meeting the employment targets set out in the socio-economic agreements they made when they opened, but can they really be expected to do so?

NNSL photo/graphic

Tom Hoefer: Executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. - NNSL file photo

Getting people hired at NWT mines is what Hilary Jones, general manger of the Northwest Territories Mine Training Society, does and she sees first-hand the difficulty mines face when trying to increase the number of Northern residents they employ.

She points to a report issued by the Mining Industry Human Resource Council in 2011 which states that the mining industry will need to hire 75,280 more people across the country by 2021 in a "contractionary economy" based on a loss of 28,200 available jobs in the industry.

If Canada remains at a baseline economy, which is the current trend, the industry will have a hiring requirement of 112,020 people by 2021.

"They're not, not meeting their targets out of spite or anything like that," said Jones. "It's because trying to find the folks with the right skill set is difficult, not only here but in the rest of Canada."

Jones added that "mining is no longer pick and shovel," with the majority of mine jobs requiring technical training. She said, on average, only five per cent of the work force at any given mine is labour.

That evolution, compacted by issues of low educational attainment, high numbers of applicants with criminal records, rampant social problems, a high number of single parents, and other obstacles, results in mines having a hard time finding the right local candidates.

"We have to realize that when they were first negotiated the whole economy was different and the people economy was different," Jones said.

She points out that when BHP Billiton "pulled their first site out of the ground" unemployment was 13 per cent in Yellowknife, talented and experienced bureaucrats chose not to transfer over to the newly-created Nunavut, and both Con and Giant mine were shutting down.

"So there was this wonderfully trained, available workforce," said Jones.

"Unless we are really going to increase our birth rate and age people very quickly, it's an issue facing the entire industry across Canada."

Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said based on the projections in the socio-economic agreements and the agreed percentages, 1,138 Northern residents should have been employed by the territory's three diamond mines in 2011. That goal was surpassed with 1,541 Northern residents employed that year, although the percentages may not be at target levels, he said.

Hoefer says investing in mine training is one of the most important ways to get Northerners into the industry, which is why the lobby for a federally-funded pan-territorial training initiative is vital.

"I think we can always do things to improve and I think we should always be thinking about how we can improve it," said Hoefer.

"There is no silver bullet that is going to fix this and there is no one party that is going to fix it. It's going to take the application of resources, time and efforts from aboriginal groups, both governments, as well as industry working together to make it happen."

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