Yukon Territory is poised to take its largely successful campaign to attract and encourage a robust mining industry to the next level by developing a new center for mineral research and mine training in the North.
Yukon College, the territory’s focal point for higher education and training, is conducting a yearlong study of the feasibility of establishing a Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining.
The proposed center would offer accredited programing in mining and related technology and conduct, in collaboration with industry partners and other institutions, applied research projects designed to help increase the competitiveness of Yukon’s mining industry.
The first phase of the two-phase feasibility study announced Sept. 30 involved information-gathering and consultation with the territorial and First Nation governments, non-governmental organizations, communities and industry.
Data collected offered a comprehensive portrait of the mining and exploration industry both in the territory and on the global stage and revealed how the industry is integrated into the social and economic fabric of the Yukon.
The value of mineral production in the territory has soared to nearly C$500 million in 2011 from just C$46 million in 2006, and is expected to grow to C$1 billion in 2013 when the Wolverine Mine achieves commercial production and to climb even higher in 2014 when the Eagle gold project is expected to begin operations.
Mineral exploration spending in the Yukon more than tripled between 2005 and 2010, climbing to C$160 million from C$45 million five years earlier, and was expected to nearly double again in 2011, soaring to C$300 million and generating employment for more than 1,000 people.
Average disposable income in Yukon Territory also increased to C$43,000 per household in 2011 from C$23,000 in 2006, while the average yearly mining wage climbed to C$77,000 during the same period.
The second phase of the study, which is to be completed this spring, is considering findings from the first phase and providing an advisory committee with anticipated benefits of the center, a business plan and a financial analysis.
Yukon Economic Development Minister Steve Nordick said the center could provide an opportunity for industry, government and research partners to work together on enhanced innovation and mining-related technology projects.
Part of the solutionYukon College President Karen Barnes, Ph.D., said the institution intends “to be a part of the solution” by providing education and training geared toward meeting the need for a skilled labor force capable of filling jobs created in the territory’s growing mining industry.
Barnes told an audience of miners at the Yuko Geoscience Forum in Whitehorse recently that the college provides 40 programs in skilled trades, technology and applied careers as well as bachelor and master’s degrees to a student body comprised of 1,300 full-time and 3,500 part-time students, along with just-in-time training to 4,000 individuals, many of whom currently work in the mining industry.
“This past year, we opened a new School of Mining, Trades and Technology, which delivered two programs in Mayo, (Yukon), with the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation, the Yukon Chamber of Mines and Yukon Mine Training Associations, and we immediately put 54 students into the field last spring,” Barnes said. “Last week, we announced over C$1 million in funding to start a new geological technology program.”
Barnes said the college also consolidated all of its research efforts in Whitehorse with the help of federal government funding.
“We know there is a need in the mining industry for locally conducted research,” she said. “Two areas we’re currently focusing on are cold climate technology and alternative energy. We believe that both are significant, and we believe that having a center in Whitehorse, connected to our research center at the college will provide a destination for scholarship and research that is directly related to mining.”
Barnes said the college currently has a world renowned researcher from Quebec in residence who is working on permafrost research on Beaver Creek Highway, and another noted researcher working with Norwestel on providing alternative energy to replace the use of diesel at the company’s transmission stations.
“We’re also trying to leverage almost C$1 million in funding to create a new research chair,” she said. “We’d like that research chair to be in mining.”
Leveraging assetsYukon College has campuses in 11 communities throughout the territory, from Old Crow to Watson Lake to Haines Junction. In each of its facilities, the college offers videoconferencing throughout the territory and local instructors who can provide and coordinate training programs for the mining industry, Barnes said.
The college also owns a mobile training unit and has online facilities at each of its campuses.
“Last year, we had 1,700-plus students taking training on our rural campuses, and that infrastructure is going to allow us to push training not only throughout the Yukon but also throughout the North and throughout Canada, if necessary,” said Barnes.
“Finally, one of the benefits of working with the college and in creating this center is that we already have an established presence in all of our communities. We work closely with our communities on many levels, both in training and community engagement. We are there to listen to what their needs are. We try to work with them closely in meeting those needs.
“We know you have that same need, and this center can be a place where that is coordinated and centralized. We know the Centre for Innovation in Mining can help industry engage with communities — a place where we can find and plan solutions, a place where we can promote new activities in the community and engage in consultations and most especially, where we can celebrate the partnerships that exist,” Barnes explained.
Over the next few months, key stakeholder groups will be working together to prepare a “model” that the college hopes to present to the mining industry in the fall of 2012, she told the industry audience.
“We know that in eastern Canada there are a number of training facilities in Val d’Or, (Quebec), and Kirkland Lake, Haileybury and Sudbury, (Ontario). There is nothing like that in Western Canada, and it’s time that we had something to support your industry, and we really think it should be here in the Yukon,” Barnes concluded.