Early preparation of its employees for long-term work is what New Gold looks to implement for its proposed mine near Vanderhoof, project director said.
Public comment period for New Gold’s Blackwater mining project, located 110 km southwest of Vanderhoof, is drawing to a close on Feb. 19, while federal and provincial environmental review of the project continues this year.
As construction of the company’s open-pit mine in northwest Ontario continues, New Gold is learning to prepare employees with training earlier for Blackwater’s silver and gold mine, which would also be open-pit and is slated to start construction in 2018, said Blackwater Project director Tim Bekhuys.
“Because of our commitment to the indigenous people of the area, one of the things we kicked off just over a year ago is started working with the key First Nations in the area around Blackwater,” Bekhuys said.
The draft of a First Nations training and employment strategy for the project, led by First Nations, was finalized earlier this month, and the company is currently working on its implementation, he added.
“One of the things we look at in that strategy is, it’s really important as a company that we don’t go away and develop a strategy,” Bekhuys said. “It has to be done with the local communities…our role would be to facilitate that at the end.”
The strategy involves matching existing skills and capabilities within the First Nations communities to future jobs with the project, he explained.
“We want to start putting in place strategies and plans to make sure there weren’t any barriers to employment,” Bekhuys said. “We have a good understanding of what training programs, what partnerships we would have to put in place, to get people prepared to work.”
New Gold is also looking to time training with the start of work.
“Nobody wants to be trained to work in a certain area without having a job at the end of it,” he said.
In addition to providing scholarships through various colleges in the region for related long-term careers, the company also trains much of its employees in-house, such as its Surface Mine Aboriginal Training program at its Rainy River Project in Ontario, Bekhuys added.
Over 10 aboriginal workers have graduated so far from the two-month program involving hands-on and classroom training, continuing onto work with production drills and ore haul trucks, he explained.
“We would look towards building on that success for Blackwater, based on our experience at Rainy River,” he said. “The strategy is to train a lot of the people during the construction period, so when we go into production, they build up that experience and they can move into the longer term jobs during the operational period.”
He added, “It’s important for us to look longer term; long term careers, not just jobs.”
For Chief Stanley Thomas from the Saik’uz First Nation, it’s a long-time coming project since a capacity agreement was signed between the company and the community six months ago.
“We’re happy about it; hopefully there will be a long term relationship and we’ll move on from there,” Thomas said, adding that past meetings with the company’s CEO Bob Gallagher were positive.
“Things are resolved, though it took awhile,” he said. “We’re glad we stuck to our guns.”