The Arviat Diamond Driller’s Training Program

Mining in the North requires unusual levels of cooperation from everybody involved…

When I started my new job as Community Economic Development Officer in Arviat at the end of January, one of the files I inherited was the Arviat Diamond Drillers Training (ADDT) program. This program had been developed the year before as a partnership between the Hamlet of Arviat, the Government of Nunavut through the Department of Economic Development and Transportation and Nunavut Arctic College, various funding and development agencies, and the mining industry.

The program consisted of two 10-week training courses, where participants trained to be Driller’s Helpers on a surface diamond drill rig (meaning the drill bit contains diamonds, not that they drill for diamonds – although diamonds are one of many things that exploratory surface diamond drills look for). The first course was already complete, and the majority of the equipment and supplies were already in place. But as you can imagine, the logistics of running a course in Arviat with students from Nunavut, instructors from an Ontario college, and the installation of a complete diamond drilling rig in Arviat were sometimes a headache, to say the least.

Fortunately, I also inherited a program coordinator who knew what she was doing, and who kept me and the course on track. Last week we celebrated the graduation of 10 students who completed the second 10-week course, and it was a little hard to believe that the program was complete, since it had been the major project on my plate since I started.

Mining and Labour in Nunavut

The ADDT program is an interesting example of economic development done a little differently. Some background: the major mining company in the Kivalliq region, and arguably all of Nunavut, is Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd (AEM). AEM runs the only mine currently in production in the territory, the Meadowbank gold mine north of Baker Lake, and is in the early stages of developing a second gold mine at Meliadine, just outside of Rankin Inlet.

Mining companies such as AEM that do business in Nunavut on Inuit-owned lands must negotiate Inuit Impact Benefit Agreements (IIBAs) with the local Inuit Associations (in Arviat, for example, the regional association is the Kivalliq Inuit Association). Among other things, these IIBAs lay out the company’s responsibilities with regards to its labour force. In general, a mining company must demonstrate that it is making its best efforts to employ as many local Inuit beneficiaries as possible, instead of importing labour from the south. In many cases, specific targets are set in terms of percentage of payroll.

…a mining company must demonstrate that it is making its best efforts to employ as many local Inuit beneficiaries as possible, instead of importing labour from the south.

The ADDT program evolved from Arviat’s desire to take full advantage of employment opportunities in the mining industry in Nunavut. It also evolved from the mining industry’s desire and legal obligation to hire locally as much as possible. The challenge that both the community and the industry face is a lack of trained Inuit in areas that require specialized training, such as diamond drilling.

AEM and the community of Arviat therefore saw an opportunity to work together for their mutual benefit. AEM brought the industry to the table (including its partner drilling companies) with expertise, equipment, and financial support as well as a commitment to hire qualified program graduates, while the Hamlet supplied administrative and logistical support. Funding support was sought from the Government of Nunavut through the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, and several regional organizations, including the Kivalliq Inuit Association, contributed funding to the program.

The Importance of Cooperation

It’s an interesting example of the community, industry, and government coming together for their mutual gain. The community gets trained people into well-paying jobs, industry gets the labour force that it requires, and government is directly supporting and driving economic and community development. It’s encouraging to see so many groups and agencies coming together, and exciting to see the results. Not having worked in the economic development field before, I don’t have much to compare, but I get the sense that this kind of cooperation among so many different groups (about a dozen in all) is not particularly common.

And this kind of cooperation is absolutely necessary in the north. With such a small population, there just aren’t that many players on the field. Yet the challenges and expense of doing business and building the economy are massive. To overcome these challenges, it is essential for all of the involved groups to work together to support each other’s goals while achieving their own.

We’re already planning on running the ADDT program for a second year – which means I’ve got some funding proposals to write.

For some recent press on the ADDT program graduation, see this article on Nunatsiaq News. There are also some recent articles on mining in Nunavut on Nunatsiaq News and on CBC News North that make for interesting reading.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – the views and opinions in this column are those of the author alone, and are not necessarily those of the Hamlet of Arviat, Government of Nunavut, any of its departments or agencies, or anybody else.

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