Help to get into mining

Program prepares Aboriginal people for careers in mining

An instructor in the BCAMTA Heavy Equipment Operator program gets creative in the classroom. The program is coming to Cranbrook very soon.

An instructor in the BCAMTA Heavy Equipment Operator program gets creative in the classroom. The program is coming to Cranbrook very soon.

An association that connects First Nations with the mining industry has launched in the East Kootenay, and already 60 people have signed up to participate in its programs.

The British Columbia Aboriginal Mine Training Association (BCAMTA) prepares Aboriginal candidates for a lasting career in mining and mineral exploration.

The charity started work in spring 2010, and in early fall 2012 it launched its services at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook.

Three program staff work for BCAMTA out of Cranbrook, guiding 60 participants toward and in their career in mining.

“It’s not just about placing a person in a job; it’s about building a path towards something that will last and will help them build a career that is satisfying and that suits their own skills and interests and can provide a more holistic satisfaction for a person than just landing a job and a pay cheque,” said Laurie Sterritt, BCAMTA’s chief executive officer during a visit to Cranbrook last month.

Already, BCAMTA has launched a program at the College of the Rockies called Pathways to Success. At the moment, 11 students are enrolled in the program, which prepares people for entry into the job market.

“The Pathways to Success program focuses on essential skills that would help a person become successful in a work place. It can be very broad or it can be focused on specific jobs that a person is interested in pursuing,” said Sterritt. “For instance, we know that in the mining sector there are certain career paths that require very specific skills and we will help a person build those skills to be able to land their first job in that career path, and then move and advance down that path.”

BCAMTA is also preparing to offer an Introduction to Trades program and a Heavy Equipment training program at the College of the Rockies, and other programs will be offered over time.

What’s more, program coach Dale Pound works one-on-one with Aboriginal participants who are already working in mining and exploration, and who want to further develop their career.

“Dale will assist those people that are placed in jobs if they want further training, if they want supervisory skills, if they want to be able to apply for the next step,” said Sterritt.

BCAMTA was born out of the federal Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership, which concluded in March 2012.

“The requirements of that program were that the industry, corporations, First Nations and government would have to work together to bridge the skills gap between the local First Nations and the workforce needs of the companies and the industry from a broader perspective,” said Sterritt.

“Our organization acts as a neutral third party in all of those negotiations.”

This means that BCAMTA works closely with its industry partners, including Teck, to bridge the gap between industry and First Nations.

“The solutions we find for the Teck operations in the Elk Valley are very different to the solutions we create in Kamloops, and are very different for the solutions we’ll build for the Northwest,” said Sterritt.

“We are relatively new here so we are working with the Teck operations in the Elk Valley, learning what their workforce needs are and we’ll build a plan that suits the communities and those companies.”

BCAMTA works with Aboriginal candidates at all levels of skill and education to identify a career path and develop skills to get into that career.

Sterritt said there are multiple barriers that make it difficult for Aboriginal people to access a career in mining and explorations.

“We know that education is a big gap,” she said. “Some of the other barriers include the family cycles.

“We know that moving away from the community causes a lot of discomfort in some cases,” said Sterritt. “Many communities have really shied away from assisting their members to get training or enter into this industry because we know this quite possibly could take them away from home.

“Another major barrier is just plain knowledge and awareness of what is exploration and mining. In some communities there is a long history of opposition between the community and the company,” she said. “We do know there is a lot of really good work being done in the industry to change the habits and the awareness on the company’s side. But I think on the opposite side, the awareness and engagement on the First Nation side has to adjust as well.”

The Ktunaxa Nation is pleased to see BCAMTA starting up in the East Kootenay, said program coach Dale Pound.

“So far it has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve been working with the Ktunaxa Nation and the four Bands in this area. I think we’ve been very well received and we’ve had a number of participants in our program who have been very happy with the results,” said Pound.

BCAMTA is funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, with provincial  support from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

The association is seeing results across the province, Sterritt said. About 1,400 Aboriginal candidates are registered, and 470 people have began careers in mining and exploration. Sixty-three per cent of those employed candidates transitioned from unemployment.

Employers love to see BCAMTA’s name on a candidate’s resume, Sterritt went on.

“When their resume comes and it says ‘I have taken my training through BCAMTA’, and BCAMTA coaches have supported that person through the application process, the hiring people know they are getting a high quality applicant. We don’t put somebody up for a job if they are not ready for it,” she said.

“We aspire to connect people with lasting careers,” said Sterritt. “There have been instances where we have supported people to get onto their next level of training and they have decided not to go into mining. That’s fine too, because we want to make sure that we are building confidence in the individual candidates first and foremost, and we want to help them find their place, where they want to be in life. If it happens to be in exploration and mining, where there are a lot of options and a lot of high earning potential, then that’s great.”