May 25, 2007

Training key to boosting Inuit jobs at mines

Kitikmeot to see employment explosion over next five years

JANE GEORGE

Giant 100-tonne mining trucks don't scare Roger Hitkoluk, a heavy equipment mechanic at the Diavik diamond mine.

Hitkoluk, 60, got his start on the Beaufort Sea oil rigs and at the former Lupin mine. Now, he repairs 16-cylinder engines on the house-sized trucks used at Diavik.

Hitkoluk is used to work rotations of two weeks in and two weeks out. When he worked on rigs, he'd be gone from home a lot longer. At Diavik, he also gets more than six weeks holiday and time off for Canadian Ranger exercises, such as the snowmobile journey he recently made to Alert.

Maryanne Angnahiak, a mother in her 30s, also works at Diavik, where she operates heavy-equipment machinery. She is one of the few women doing this tough job. The pay is an incentive to be away from home: she earns several times more at the mine than she would in Kugluktuk.

Like Hitkoluk and Angnahiak, many in Kugluktuk gained on-the-job experience from jobs at DEW line clean-up sites, oil rigs, mines and mining exploration camps as foremen, crew leaders, labourers, bear monitors, heavy equipment operators, cleaners, rock truck drivers, camp attendants and cooks.

Students in Kugluktuk’s popular trades program work in a cramped workshop to master the skills they will need to work in the mining industry or in their home community.
(PHOTOS BY JANE GEORGE)

Jobs for these skilled Inuit workers will grow every year, as new mines and mining exploration camps bring hundreds of new jobs to the Kitikmeot.

To promote interest for mining careers among high school students, Miramar runs a summer camp at Yellowknife's Kimberlite Career and Technical Training Centre. Next month at the centre, 32 students will learn carpentry, welding, small engine mechanics, and even hairstyling, and earn high school credits for the experience.

But some worry whether Nunavut's youth will be adequately prepared to take on the jobs they want.

Ivor Mala, 18, of Cambridge Bay, who wants to be a mechanic, is one of the lucky ones. He's been studying hard for his level one Alberta trades exam, which includes a lot of challenging math problems.

Mala is one of four students at Kiilinik High School in a pilot for the Nunavut Early Apprenticeship Training Program. The program gives Grade 10 to 12 students the academic background they need to pass the trades exams while they rack up hours as apprentices in the workplace. Ernie Leblanc, a guidance counsellor at Kiilinik, supports Mala and the others in the program.

George Bohlender, executive director of the Kitikmeot Development Corporation, would like to see similar programs and career counsellors at the Kitikmeot's other high schools.

Ivor Mala, 18, of Cambridge Bay, is studying to be a mechanic under the Nunavut Early Apprenticeship Training Program at Kiilinik High School.


He'd like also to see more money for literacy programs, which suffered funding cuts under the Conservative government, so students and adults will have the basic skills they need for skilled jobs.

"Everyone says how important youth are, but when it comes time to pay money for training they're left in the lurch," Bohlender said.

An estimated 80 per cent of new mining jobs will require special knowledge and certification.

When Diavik moves underground by 2012, there will be less need for heavy-equipment operators, and workers will need a new set of technical skills, such as drilling and blasting.

Donald Havioyak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, wants 70 to 80 per cent of these future mining jobs to go to Inuit. This means a lot of training will have to take place.

"Hopefully, the different levels of government will assist us with training," Havioyak said from the KIA's head office in Cambridge Bay.

Donald Havioyak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Associations, wants Inuit in 70 to 80 per cent of future mining jobs.


As it stands now, "everyone who wants a job at a mine gets one, if they have the basic lifestyle," said Geoffrey Clark, director of lands, environment and resources at the KIA's Kugluktuk office.

Clark says Kugluktuk is destined to be "the centre of growth for the Kitikmeot." There are already 64 mine workers in Kugluktuk: nine at Diavik, 19 at Ekati and 35 at Tahera's Jericho mine.

At present, jobs are available at three mines as well as 15 to 20 exploration sites around the region.

Over the next five years, the number of jobs is expected to explode with new mines at Miramar's Doris North and BHP's Ulu gold properties, a copper-zinc mine at Wolfden's High Lake, followed by more mines at Miramar's Madrid and Boston gold properties, Wolfden's copper-zinc Izok property and Prize Mining's nickel-copper-platinum property, Muskox.

Miramar is moving ahead this year with the construction of a $14 million port for its Doris North mine.

The 100 workers in its two camps are 30 per cent Inuit, says Alex Buchan, Miramar's manager of community relations in Kugluktuk. In 2006, Miramar hired 42 Inuit beneficiaries from the Kitikmeot, spending $760,000 on salaries.

Buchan expects Miramar's "starter mine" at Doris North to be running by 2008, providing many more jobs. During its intense two-year lifespan, about 115 workers will be mining gold underground. When mining starts at its larger Madrid property, several hundred more jobs will open.

To ensure Inuit receive training and jobs, the Kitikmeot Corp. runs a joint venture company with an Ontario firm, which specializes in the design and construction of underground mines. The new company has received a major contract for work at Diavik.

The Kitikmeot Employment and Training Partners have offered courses in geology, and training for cooks, camp attendants, diamond drillers, security officers and diamond valuators.

But for mines and trades training, the Kitikmeot still looks to the Northwest Territories, rather than to Nunavut's new training centre in Rankin Inlet. The KIA had promoted Lupin's former Echo Bay mine site as a regional mines and trades training centre.

Some mining industry observers in the Kitikmeot predict Nunavummiut who receive training elsewhere may permanently leave the territory, unless their home communities become more peaceful places to live.

A few Inuit miners have already chosen to live in Yellowknife and fly from there to the mine sites.