NWCC’s mining school strikes interest in Nunavik, Yukon

Northwest Community College may find new ground for its mining field school—Nunavik, northern Québec.

Northwest Community College may find new ground for its mining field school—Nunavik, northern Québec.

Tony Harris, industry liaison with NWCC’s School of Exploration and Mining, recently introduced the school in Kuujjuaq, an Inuit town of 2,500 just south of the tree line in the Nunavik region near Ungava Bay.

“They’re facing the same issues that we are,” said Harris.

Several massive mining projects, such as a 20-year expansion of the Raglan nickel mine, are going ahead in a region that lacks skilled workers, he said.

“There’s talk of a shortage of 5,000 employees if all these projects were to go ahead, and that’s in a pretty small area.”

What NWCC’s mining school offers Kuujjuaq, Harris said, is its track record. Since 2004, the school has graduated more than 850 students, and 83 per cent found work or continued on to other programs.

“It’s great fun, and we’re empowering students, putting them to work,” he added, noting that the SEM gives hands-on training to future field assistants, environmental monitors and other mineral workers.

For their part, members of the Kuujjuaq Regional Government that invited Harris told him they like what they’ve seen of the school and plan to visit this summer.

Asked why the NWCC’s mining school attracts such attention, Harris says a big factor is its industry partner, the Smithers Exploration Group.

Starting as an informal group of young geologists in 1974, he said the group is now well established and keen to give back.

“Companies come and go, but they’ve been here all that time,” he said.

Another factor is the aboriginal focus of the SEM’s field school, which includes a First Nations elder in residence, as well as First Nations graduates who have stayed on to mentor new students.

That model has drawn in aboriginal students from across B.C., Harris said, from

“We’re drawing people from all over B.C. to this program,” he said. From Kitkatla to Lilloet, Barrier and Power River, there were 23 First Nations represented among the 60 students in the program last year.

Last week, Harris was up in the Yukon on a similar trip, looking to partner with Yukon College to offer training there.

All that exposure is also good for the college, Harris said, particularly in a time when it is looking at a serious budget shortfall.

“We’re looking for ways to grow our business, especially in times of deficit,” he said.

Nunavik and the Yukon may not be the last places Harris flies to. Natural resource projects are also in the works for northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, he said, and right now there aren’t enough skilled local workers ready for hire.

“It’s up to us as an educational institution to do our best to fill that void,” he said.