Industry champions are getting serious about interesting the younger generation in mining careers.

Each year, the Nunavut Mining Symposium gathers hundreds of industry-related workers in the capital to share information about multiple topics but, for the first time, youth engagement made it on the agenda.

“What seemed to be a missing element was engaging the young people, because they are such an important part of our population,” said Alex Buchan who, as a TMAC employee, sits on the mining symposium’s steering committee.

“A lot of the things our industry is doing is going to affect their lives and provide opportunities going forward for generations to come.”

Lee Qamanirq, left, Nolan Apaluktuq, Lance Akoluk, Morgan Carter, with panel facilitator Alex Buchan, pose for a photo at the Nunavut Mining Symposium April 4 after an hour-and-a-half panel discussion with industry representatives on how to better engage youth in mine-related employment.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

To that end, the committee decided to choose two young people who live near each of the three operating mines – Cambridge Bay, Baker Lake and Pond Inlet – to participate in the symposium. Four of the youth – Lee Qamanirq, Nolan Apaluktuq, Lance Akoluk and Morgan Carter – formed a panel facilitated by Buchan. Those who came to listen and participate included representatives from mines, exploration companies, federal agencies, the territorial government, Inuit organizations, Nunavut Agreement institutions of public government, and Nunavut Arctic College, among others.

Buchan, who organizes community meetings, remarked that youth do not attend these informational events.

“I’ve noticed that it’s very hard to communicate between generations,” said Buchan.

The youth agreed not many of their friends were interested in working at mines, which is likely because they didn’t know much about them.

Akoluk said he knows about mining, though he doesn’t work at one, because his father has been a long-time employee at Hope Bay, and he brought core samples home.

“Your dad has been pivotal with Hope Bay. He can split core like nobody else. It’s so heartening to hear that he has core there in your home and that he talks a little bit about what he does to you,” said Buchan.

“Because maybe that doesn’t always happen.”

Qamanirq works for Baffinland, and had just completed his second two-week rotation. It’s an adjustment. He misses his two-year-old son.

“It’s different, two weeks on, two weeks off. I’m missing time with my family, but at the same time I’m helping my family. And, at the same time, I’m gaining new family with the people I work with,” said Qamanirq.

“Inuit have an opportunity if they wish to go to Baffinland. They just have to have the drive and willingness to do it, make sacrifices. There is an opportunity for Inuit to make a difference for themselves, and their future.”

Apaluktuq works at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine, and is following the company’s career path program.

“That is more job security for me and, even right now, I feel I’m going to retire with Agnico,” he said.

“Agnico Eagle is 100 per cent with you.”


Getting youth into the industry, without four years away from home

The youth noted they hadn’t ever heard much about mining in their school setting.

This spurred manager of Inuit employment and training with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association Michelle Buchan, who is a former teacher, to share her thoughts.

“When you talk about not knowing anything about mining, I understand. There’s a lot to learn,” she said.

“I go into the schools in our region whenever I can and one of the things that I noticed when I get in there … I get the students to brainstorm – what kind of jobs are there in the mining industry. The can usually come up with about five.”

But Buchan confirmed there are more than a hundred.

“We do not have guidance counsellors in our schools anymore. It’s been at least 10 years. That’s a crime. How else are we supposed to get the youth to know what’s going on out there,” she asked.

Industrial arts or trades aren’t generally taught in schools, either, as a springboard to related careers.

Director of technical services for the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) Tara Arko explained how the regulator reorganized itself two years ago, and with that found an innovative way to transition high school graduates into its Cambridge Bay office.

“Being a very technical industry and technical department, we were seeing more and more barriers to youth being accessible right out of high school. Youth should not have to go and get a four-year degree to come back home and be able to practice in the territory, to be participating in regulation, that kind of thing,” said Arko.

“Part of our reorganization was to establish several direct out of high school work experience build-up positions.”

Arko pointed to two young women with her in the audience as examples of local hires who moved into and advanced from those positions, and are now classified as junior technical advisors. Two new high-school-graduate hires have filled the original build-up positions.

“And we would expect them over the next four years to mentor into a very technical department,” said Arko.

After an hour-and-a-half discussion, the session closed with Akoluk thanking the mining symposium for inviting them to participate, as well as everyone for coming to the session.

The panel and those in attendance agreed that the mining symposium should continue with the youth ambassador program, with delegates departing with much food for thought as conversations spilled out into the hallway.

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