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Confederation College mining residents' potential in north shore communities

In the face of increased demand for a highly-skilled workforce amidst ongoing developments in the mining industry, Confederation College is offering a free training program to underrepresented groups to eliminate barriers and boost awareness of opportunities

MARATHON — A new program is opening new doors for underrepresented groups in the Marathon area.

Confederation College, in partnership with Northwest Employment Works, is offering a free training opportunity aimed specifically at women, youth, and newcomers to the mining industry.

Mining Potential focuses on developing learners’ non-technical skills, knowledge, and confidence in order to achieve meaningful employment, with the ultimate goal being to provide employers with a safe and well-educated workforce to draw from.

According to Nick Iachetta, program manager in Workforce Development at Confederation College, this will be the second time they have offered the Mining Potential program.

The program is funded and supported by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR).

“They reached out almost a year ago to ask if we’d be interested in partnering with them,” Iachetta said. “We ran… our first Mining Potential program and it was a huge success. We were over-subscribed in the program in the Marathon area and… the majority of the students who took it were employed before even graduating a course.”

Barrick’s gold mine in Hemlo and mining/drilling company Boart Longyear also partnered with Confederation College and Northwest Employment Works to give students more hands-on experience.

“What we did was we ran our traditional in-class hours, enrichment hours, and then what we did is we tail-ended it with a diamond driller program, so they actually got to work underground at Barrick, receive their common core modules and get a diamond driller certificate from the college [and] from MiHR… it was a really great program – all of their safety [certifications] came with it too,” Iachetta said.

Thanks to MiHR’s contribution to the program, Mining Potential remains an extremely accessible opportunity for those who might not otherwise afford the cost of a training program.

On that note, Mining Potential’s focus on underrepresented groups is intentional.

“We understand that there’s a massive shortage in terms of labour, not just with apprentices… but across the board, so one of things that we’re doing now is being really proactive in focusing on underrepresented groups in that sector and giving them an opportunity to explore [mining],” Iachetta said.

“That’s what this course is really about — an entry level exploration course that gives you a sense of what it would be like in the mining industry, opportunities in the mining industry, and then… it’s optional if people want to take the diamond driller course but everybody does cause it really leads to full-time employment pretty quickly.”

Iachetta observed that all of the target groups for the Mining Potential program — youth, women, and newcomers — are “statistically underrepresented” within the mining industry and in the trades.

The focus is on “eliminating barriers,” Iachetta said.

Similarly, he also noted that Confederation College offers what they refer to as the Mining Essential program.

The Mining Essential program provides the same knowledge as Mining Potential but is specifically geared towards Indigenous learners.

Iachetta said that the college worked with Anishinabek Employment and Training Services to offer the Mining Essential program twice in Thunder Bay and once, most recently, in Netmizaaggamig Nishnaabeg where they wrapped up about two weeks ago.

Iachetta said that the Mining Essential programs were also “a great success.”

With the recent approval of Generation Mining’s closure plan — which needed to be in place before development of the land could commence — the need for local training initiatives such as Mining Potential is at an all-time high.

“Looking at the data… there’s just no possible way we’re going to fill that gap with the workforce that we currently have in the region, so that means we have to fix our thinking outside of the box and offer opportunities to people who wouldn’t necessarily consider it and give them the proper training,” Iachetta said.

“Along with that, we’ve also got other proposals out with the town of Marathon to do trades programming, with an agency in the Greenstone area to do some heavy equipment operator and driver training, we’ve got all of the regional school boards onboard for a federal proposal to focus on youth with barriers and give them exposure to the mining sector.”

Iachetta also mentioned “pre-apprenticeship” training that he’d like to see offered by the college as well, with women in the region being the target demographic.

That program would admit 96 women and pay for their schooling over two years to obtain their skilled work certificates.

He is currently in the process of putting together a proposal to the provincial government for support.

Earlier this October, Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas described the town's partnership with Confederation College to “upskill, re-skill, or train” new and existing workers to broaden the labour pool for regional mining operations.

Dumas made it as clear then as Iachetta stressed now that the demand only continues to grow for highly-skilled labourers, operators, and apprentices.

Iachetta said that the college has been working hard behind-the-scenes, staying connected to the communities they serve, and supporting the industry however they can to meet the demand.

That support includes training around 90 heavy-equipment operators in six months for the Greenstone goldmine, for example.

“We’ve been really actively involved in the background of things… making sure people have the training they need,” Iachetta said.

As people move to Marathon and nearby communities such as Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation amidst ongoing residential and infrastructural developments, there is sure to be more residents looking for training opportunities and Confederation College is leading the charge.

“We understand that, in the next ten years or so, there’s going to be a big gap and there’s going to continue to be opportunities in the region and it’s in our best interest regionally and community-wise to get proactive with this,” Iachetta said.

The program begins on Jan. 15, 2024 and registration is now open for interested applicants.

For more information or to register for the program, contact Northwest Employment Works Marathon at 807-229-3223 or via email at [email protected].


Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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