Madge Richardson, executive director of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, says with thousands of mining-related jobs on their way, workers and communities in Northwestern Ontario have plenty of work to do to secure them.
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Even under the most pessimistic scenario, the North Superior Workforce Planning Board says the mining sector in Thunder Bay will need to hire at least 1,100 new workers over the next decade.
The high-water mark on the Thunder Bay and District Mining labour market report suggests 4,150 new jobs in Thunder Bay, as mines expand, workers retire or leave for greener pastures in other parts of the country.
The region must prepare itself now for the coming boom, said organization executive director Madge Richardson on Friday, speaking about the report to a packed house Friday at the NOMA-sponsored Northwestern Ontario Regional Conference.
Under the best-case scenario, of the 4,150 hires needed, 1,850 would be in skilled trades and labour. An additional 320 would be supervisors and foreman, 185 support workers and 90 in human resources and financial.
Using the baseline case and 2,840 hires, which the region is in today, 1,240 skilled trade workers or laborers would be needed. In any case, the region simply can’t meet the needs at the present time.
But it can be done, Richardson said.
The challenge is to ensure the people who want the jobs are prepared for a career in the modern mining industry. It’s not like it used to be.
“Historically the labour positions underground or on the surface of the mine have been referred to as low-skill jobs, and it’s no longer the case,” Richardson said. “They’re very high-skilled jobs and very specialized in lots of instances.”
First Nations, on whose traditional territories many of the mines will operate on, stand to benefit greatly from the employment boom if it in fact does arrive, yet in many ways are the least prepared to take on the jobs.
This has to change, Richardson said, and the preparations in many cases are already in place and starting to happen.
“We have to look at those programs, essential skills and training for the Aboriginal population,” Richardson said.
“That’s a huge workforce and a pool of talent that they can access, provided they get all those other things in place.”
The report also emphasizes ensuring Aboriginal workers are trained to take more responsibility on mine sites and not just labour and support roles.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said improving the education level of his people is his top priority.
It means convincing senior levels of government to recognize the problem and provide the resources needed at the community level to make it happen.
“Right now our children are arriving here in Thunder Bay out of elementary with a Grade 5 education. That’s a big problem. We’re not going to get students who will complete high school, let alone a post-secondary education. And that has to be addressed by the senior levels of government,” said Yesno, faced with 70 per cent unemployment amongst his people.
He realizes the opportunity mining could bring, noting an Ambassador’s Group report released Thursday suggested nine mines could provide up to 13,149 jobs in all of Northwestern Ontario if they all move forward.
Stephen Lindley, vice-president of Aboriginal and northern affairs for SNC-Lavalin said the region is moving in the right direction, but more work needs to be done to ensure the majority of the jobs are filled by people from Northwestern Ontario.
And there will be plenty of them, he said on Friday, noting direct and indirect new jobs related to mining could tally as high as 35,000, and regional leaders must understand what their job readiness factor is before it’s too late.
“Do we have 35,000 people, and if not, how do we need to source them and if we need to train, what’s the timing and how are we going to get them ready for the market when the market needs them to work?” said Lindley, adding infrastructure development – and who will pay for it – will also be a major challenge moving ahead.
It’s also worth noting, he said, that companies mining in Northern Ontario can expect plenty of competition for those workers, as there is a looming global shortage of skilled trade workers.
“We have our work cut out,” he said.
Supply and demand could mean it will cost more to hire those workers, who otherwise will go elsewhere to earn a living, much like workers from the eastern Canada flocked to Alberta when the tar sands began producing oil.
That’s why it’s all that much more important to have the workers already in the region and ready to work.
“It’s a demand and supply equation,” he said.
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