Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik April 01, 2012 - 6:38 am

Plan Nord must help with Inuit mine training: Raglan

Changing the qualifications for some jobs could also boost Inuit employment at Xstrata's nickel mine

SARAH ROGERS
Two workers consult on a road a Xstrata’s Raglan mine, which wants support from Quebec and its Plan Nord to help build a more skilled and permanent local workforce. (PHOTO COURTESY OF XSTRATA)
Two workers consult on a road a Xstrata’s Raglan mine, which wants support from Quebec and its Plan Nord to help build a more skilled and permanent local workforce. (PHOTO COURTESY OF XSTRATA)

Managers of the Tamatumani training program at Xstrata Nickel’s Raglan mine want help from Quebec’s Plan Nord to build a skilled and permanent Inuit workforce.

Since the $50 million program launched in 2008, Tamatumani has achieved some success in promoting Inuit employment at its Nunavik mine.

About 18 per cent of Xstrata workers are Inuit, according to statistics, tabled at the recent Kativik Regional Government council meeting in Kuujjuaq — and that’s not far off Tamatumani’s target of a 20-per cent Inuit workforce by 2013.

Overall, Inuit employment has more than doubled at Raglan since the mine first went into operation ten years ago.

But Xstrata still hires from a pool of young and largely uneducated applicants from across the region — and, despite previous programs offered at Inukjuak’s Nunavimmi Pigiursavik Technical and Vocational Centre, applicants rarely arrive on the job with skills related to the mining trade,  Tamatumani coordinator Thérèse Côté told a Kuujjuaq mining conference last month.

Fewer than half the Inuit workers are few permanent Xstrata employees, and the company also sees a high rate of turnover, which Xstrata says affects its overall performance.

Ideally, Raglan needs to develop a pool of skilled and long-term Inuit workers.

And Plan Nord, Quebec’s 25-year scheme to open the northern portion of the province to industrial development,  is a key part of the solution, Côté said.

Speaking at the mining conference, Côté said moving the hiring process closer to the operation, through an on-site Inuit employment office, could provide a “one-stop-shop” for all requests and applications.

Xstrata has also considered revising its criteria for certain positions, which would favour personality characteristics and not just academic background, she said.

That would help work around the low level of Nunavik hires who come to Raglan with technical and university training.

Mike Welch, vice-president of Xstrata’s Raglan mine, made a similar call for Quebec to invest in employment support and training when he spoke at an Ottawa conference in early February.

Roughly half of Nunavik’s labour pool is under 18 years of age, Welch said.

“We need to get them the skills they need,” he said, adding that Quebec’s support is vital.

In the mine’s neighbouring community of Kangiqsujuaq, the local school might only graduate a couple of students who decide to head on to college every year, Welch said, which doesn’t offer the mine a solid enough local workforce.

Raglan’s neighbouring communities of Kangiqsujuaq and Salluit could benefit from community-based educational programs, he said.

And while about half of Nunavik’s workforce are women, only one in 10 mine jobs is held by a woman.

“We have to get down to the grassroots level, and it must be an integrated approach with different levels of government,” Welch said.

About 143 Inuit workers now work the Raglan mine, out of a total Xstrata workforce of 808.

Another 20 work for Inuit joint-venture companies that service the mine on-site.

With a total workforce of 1,092 in and around Raglan, this means Inuit employment stands at 15 per cent.

Since November 2011, Tamatumani has provided 52 Inuit with on-the-job training; two recently completed its underground mining apprenticeship program and were promoted from apprentices to full-time positions.

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