New plan hopes to succeed where others flopped

Training scheme targets 300 Inuit workers

By Jim Bell

KUUJJUAQ – Through a $50-million training program that started last month, the Xstrata Nickel company hopes to train 300 Nunavik Inuit by 2013.

The five-year program is intended to meet the increased demand for workers at the Xstrata Raglan nickel mine located between Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq, which plans to double production over the next five years.

The Kativik Regional Government, Xstrata Nickel, the Kativik School Board, Makivik Corp., Quebec and the federal government are partners in the program, which is aimed at training Inuit to become heavy equipment operators, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and underground miners.

"We're trying to get the number of Inuit up higher – and not just into the entry level jobs," Margaret Gauvin, the KRG's employment and training head, told regional councillors this week at their meeting in Kuujjuaq.

The program, which started Jan. 1, is to run until Dec. 31, 2012.

Trainees who complete the program can look forward to being hired as full-time employees at Xstrata or in other construction, mining or municipal projects, Gauvin said.

Ottawa, through its Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership program, will contribute $9 million a year to the program through a new non-profit corporation called Tamatumani.

Tamatumani's board of directors will include representatives of various organizations and government agencies.

Quebec will funnel $3.9 million a year to the training program for the next three years through the KRG's employment and training department, which will manage the entire program.

As part of the training program, the KSB may buy a heavy equipment simulation machine, similar to that owned and operated by the Kitikmeot Corp. in Cambridge Bay, which would be parked at the Pigiursavik vocational and training centre in Inukjuak.

Statistics on Inuit employment at Raglan from the last quarter of 2007, presented at the KRG council meeting this week, show that out of a total of 612 workers, only 99 are Inuit.

The overall proportion of Inuit workers on the entire mine site is only 14 per cent, far below the 20 per cent target that was set when the Raglan agreement was finalized in 1995.

Starting in 1995, the KRG poured millions of dollars into training courses to prepare Nunavimmiut for jobs at Raglan.

In 1998, a three-way deal between the Société minière de Raglan du Québec, the Falconbridge subsidiary that ran the mine, Quebec and the KRG, gave the SMRQ $4 million over five years to train Inuit.

The training program was intended to boost the percentage of skilled Inuit employees at the mine to 20 per cent and put an end to the company's complaints that Inuit trained off-site generally needed retraining before they could work at the mine.

However, an on-site course to train mill operators later flopped.

Only one out of seven participants completed a concentrator operator program that cost $348,860.

The training programs that showed the most success were for the lower-end jobs such as kitchen helpers, janitors or janitor apprentices.

Some of that original training money eventually paid for a more successful training project called the "stope school project," which trained Inuit on-the-job in underground mining techniques.

In August 2007, XStrata Nickel, which took over the mine from Falconbridge Ltd. in 2006, announced plans to increase mine production at Raglan to more than two million tonnes of ore, doubling the current production by 2013.

After the expansion, Raglan will be one of the largest nickel mines in the world, with output approaching 50,000 tonnes of nickel concentrate a year, together with copper and platinum metal by-products, a recent XStrata release said.

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