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Vol. 15, No. 47 Week of November 21, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Partnership delivers underground miners

Alexco Resource applauds association’s training program as YMTA expands curricula, purchases heavy equipment, safety simulators

Rose Ragsdale

For Mining News

As more mine projects in Yukon Territory move through development, the Yukon Mine Training Association is coming into its own as a good source of well-trained mine workers recruited from local communities.

Not only has the YMTA become fully operational in the past two years, it also has honed a strong reputation for providing a wide range of training opportunities for Yukoners. The four-year-old association is an uncommon network of partnerships between 19 companies, five educational institutions and 11 First Nations. In all, 44 training projects have been funded through YMTA partnerships.

During the current fiscal year, it made training available in 11 different skill sets to more than 400 trainees through these partnerships.

Long-standing YMTA offerings such as the First Nation Wage Subsidy Program and

Work experience training continued in 2009-2010, and more than 200 YMTA trainees landed jobs as a result of the training they received through the association’s programs, according to Tracy Thomas, YMTA’s executive director.

“Our organization has established itself as a resource for First Nations, industry and Yukoners seeking training and organizations with mandates similar to our own across Canada,” Thomas wrote in YMTA’s 2010 annual report.

“Our partners provide funding for training, space for training courses, trainers and mentors, and opportunities for our trainees to gain work experience in the field. These courses change the lives of our trainees; in 2009-10 alone, 221 people were able to move from YMTA training directly to work in the mining and resource-related industries,” said Thomas. “That’s something that YMTA can celebrate.”

Underground miners

Last spring, 11 students graduated from the four-week classroom component of YMTA’s underground mine training course, and eight of the 11 successfully completed a four-week hands-on component of the course. The students gained experience and learned the skills necessary to obtain work as entry-level underground miners by gaining hands-on experience at Alexco Resource Corp.’s Bellekeno Mine.

Funded by YMTA, Alexco and the Government of Canada, the underground mine training course used a classroom curriculum developed by the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology to teach students how to work safely and effectively in an underground mine.

“The success of the students in the underground mine training just goes to show how industry and Yukoners can work together to create opportunities for workers in the Yukon,” said YMTA Executive Director Tracy Thomas. “All eleven graduates studied how to work safely in Yukon mines, and the top eight were able to apply their new knowledge immediately with the hands-on training underground – you can’t ask for a better training experience for a person interested in a career in the mining industry,” she continued.

The SIAST curriculum includes safety procedures and work techniques needed in underground mining work, including mine ventilation, ground control, rigging and staging, manual drilling, muck handling and shaft operations.

“Alexco is especially happy with the way this course has been taught. As soon as the students were well-grounded in the theory of underground mining, they were able to put their new knowledge into action in a real-life mining situation,” said YMTA Underground Mine Training Project Manager, Bill Dunn. “It’s wonderful to see workers in the Yukon getting the training they need to succeed.”

Simon Mervyn Sr., chief of the Nacho Nyak Dunn First Nation, said YMTA has come a long way in the 10 years since he helped draft a structure for the organization which then was just a concept.

“We’ve very supportive of that project and they are on a roll,” Mervyn said, who also observed that two of the underground miners trained to work at Alexco’s nearby Bellekeno Mine ware Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation members.

Safety focus important

Alexco hired four of the eight top graduates of the program, including two young men from the nearby community of Mayo, Yukon.

“The program was a good thing,” said Rob McIntyre, Alexco’s vice president for business development. “YMTA was able to hire an underground miner from the Cantung Mine to teach the course, and it worked great.”

Cantung, operated by North American Tungsten Corp. Ltd., is a long-running tungsten mining operation that lies just across the border in Northwest Territories. It shut down production in late 2009 due to low tungsten prices but resumed operations in early October.

Part of the success of the YMTA training for Alexco was the strong emphasis it placed on safety, McIntyre said. “We were happy to get that safety focus in the training at YMTA. We have our daily toolbox safety meetings, and we can see it worked into every component of mine life.”

He said a big part of mine safety, especially in underground operations, is focusing on little things to prevent more serious accidents.

“If you see a few finger bangs, we see those as incidents and as a sign that maybe the focus on safety isn’t there, and it could trend into something major,” explained.

McIntyre said the new miners from YMTA have become valuable additions to Bellekeno’s work force. The mine and mill operations will employ about 120 people and are expected to directly invest more than C$25 million annually for labor, materials and supplies in the Yukon.

Bellekeno Mine Manager Tim Hall said Steve Taylor, the underground mine trainer from Cantung, did an excellent job, along with Underground Mine Training Manager Bill Dunn and some of the miners and supervisors who work for the mine’s contractor Procon Miners Inc.

The YMTA grads also have become informal ambassadors for mining, showing their communities the benefits of a having a mine, McIntyre said.

In addition to the miners from Mayo, Hall said the other new hires are Whitehorse residents, though one is originally from Haines Junction.

“These young men are walking with a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eye,” McIntyre said. “It actually gives them a leg up. It gives them a future. Not everybody is suited for sitting behind a computer. These guys just love it.”

The 400 metric-ton-per-day Bellekeno Mine is currently being commissioned to begin production of silver-lead-zinc concentrates at an initial rate of 250 tpd.

In early November, McIntyre said startup of production was “imminent.”

He also said he envisions Alexco hiring more YMTA mining grads. “I can see us doing that every year or maybe twice a year,” he added.

Hall said he would “possibly hire another two trainees for underground mining down the road depending on attrition or if Alexco goes to self-mining versus working with a contractor.”

Training simulators

YMTA, meanwhile, is expanding the scope of its services by bringing training equipment to Yukon Territory. This year, the association purchased two mine training simulators. The machines will allow trainees to try operating virtual surface and subsurface heavy equipment, practice safety procedures and difficult techniques in the simulators, and prepare for the challenges they might meet in the field.

The association is also adding a new curriculum for training heavy equipment operators in an initiative funded by Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency’s Community Adjustment Fund. The 12-week course is recognized by the Alberta Government and will be presented by Northern Safety Network Yukon.

The course focuses on skills building and includes classroom work, basic equipment care and maintenance, and hands-on training for equipment including backhoe loaders. During the course, trainees will master industry tasks like sloping, rigging and cutting grade.

“The course teaches the basic techniques needed for heavy equipment operation, and gives students a chance to develop expertise and experience operating heavy equipment in a theoretical and hands-on environment,” according to Sheila Sergy, executive director of the Northern Safety Network. “Once trainees have achieved certification in basic skills and safety procedures, they are able to perform more safely and efficiently. The delivery of this course in the Yukon will increase skill levels in the territory, build capacity in our communities and create a safer environment on our work sites,” she added.

“The purchase of this and other curricula means that training can be delivered in Yukon at any time,” said Thomas. “YMTA is delighted to have had the funding to be able to purchase these much-needed programs for Yukon and to potentially be available as a funding source to help cover the tuition of this training.”

More offerings, staff

As for 2010–11, Thomas said the association plans to offer 27 training courses and add new staff to meet increased demand for the organization’s services. “It promises to be another exciting year as we expand our program of work with Yukon communities by adding an YMTA representative stationed in the western Yukon,” she said.

Currently, YMTA has three training liaison workers, or TLWs, stationed in communities across the Yukon in Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake. TLWs meet with First Nation governments, industry representatives and potential trainees to help identify training needs, offer information about careers, assist in developing projects and proposals, or help with referrals. The association will expand its staff of TLWs and station a worker in one of Yukon’s western communities. Until now, people from the western region seeking information from YMTA have worked with the head office.

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