AN AGENCY aimed at training First Nations people for expected jobs in potential northwestern mines is setting up shop in Terrace.
The BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association (BCAMTA) already ran one training program in the Nass Valley last year and this summer has eight people taking heavy equipment operator simulator and practical experience training.
It already has an office in New Aiyansh at the Gitlaxt’aamiks Village Government’s cultural centre from where it ran the simulator portion of the heavy equipment operator course by renting the Northwest Community College’s mobile simulator training unit.
The trainees are now getting practical experience at the motocross association’s grounds off of Hwy37 South thanks to another agreement to use college equipment.
That the association’s first northwest training sessions were in the Nass Valley is not surprising given that Avanti, with its planned molybdenum mine at Kitsault and Seabridge Gold’s potential gold mine, are on Nisga’a traditional territory.
“We go where we’re invited,” says Robert Mills, BCAMTA’s regional manager, of the association’s work.
In the case of the heavy equipment operator training program, trainees who did not have other living arrangements stayed in bed and breakfasts throughout the Nass Valley.
In Terrace, trainees are being housed in the college’s student dorms.
“We often rely on partners for delivery [of programs],” noted Mills of the college’s ability to provide training equipment, facilities and accommodation.
He said the association will work individually with its students, which it calls candidates, to bring them up to an education level, if so required, after which they can be trained for mining work.
“We’re certainly focused on each person,” said Mills. One of its three employees in the area, for instance, is Francine Gurney and her title is program coach which reflects the one-on-one nature of the association’s work.
“If a training allowance is needed, we’ll provide one. We’ll do whatever it takes to remove barriers [to employment],” said Mills.
But as much as the association concentrates on its candidates, it also ensures that programs turn out the kind of trained people needed by mining companies, said Mills.
He also acknowledged that while the association trains people for mine work, a lot of the skills it teaches are equally as applicable to other industries.
The association, for example, is putting on an environmental technician certificate program in the fall in conjunction with another agency also aimed at aboriginal training, The Pacific Trails Pipeline Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership, which is training people to work in the liquefied natural gas industry.
Graduates of the five-week program will receive an accredited post secondary certificate.
Mills said the mine training association is also speaking with the Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and other northwest first nations about cook’s helper programs.
The BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association grew out of discussions with mining companies, the Mining Association of BC and the Association of Mineral Exploration BC in 2009 over creating employment opportunities for aboriginals.
“The focus was really on demand and supply for employment in traditional territories,” says executive director Laurie Sterritt, who was hired on as the association’s first employee in January 2010.
“It’s a process of assessment and orientation and formal training and the need for technical knowledge. The mining industry has lots of moving parts and is very complex,” she said.
Inaugural financing came from a federal training grant and that’s been followed up by a three-year federal commitment of $3.5 million a year.
The association has a central office in Vancouver and field offices throughout the province.
The association has 2,000 people in training and 580 graduates now employed. A Pricewaterhouse Coopers report prepared for the association found that the wages of graduates rose from an average $13,754 before training to $52,959 afterward.
Avanti official Mark Premo said it looked forward to a long-term relationship with BCAMTA and will be making a financial contribution to its work.
He said the co-operation between Northwest Community College, the Gitlaxt’aamiks Village Government in New Aiyansh and the association is starting to pay off.
“We’re pleased BCAMTA is in the Nass preparing people for long-term jobs,” added Premo.
Avanti’s environmental approval from the province for its mine comes with comprehensive conditions which emphasize local employment.