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    Employee Training and Development in Northern Canada

    -Marisa Woo

    Employee training and development is an issue that many northern Canadian companies are focusing on in their needs to hire and retain qualified workers. With all the jobs that the northern economy has either created or has the potential to create, filling these positions can often become a challenge.

    "We just don't have enough people to fill all of the jobs," explains Maria Mathews, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce. "In large part, we have a broad Aboriginal/Inuit base that requires fundamental training in order to even gain employment."

    As a solution to the worker shortages, Mathews notes that many companies are addressing the issue of training and development for Northern workers. This is especially the case in diamond and oil and gas developments, which are large drivers of the northern economy.

    BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. is one company committed to providing benefits to the people of the north. In agreement with the Government of the NWT, BHP Billiton helps NWT residents and northern Aboriginal peoples take advantage of employee training programs with their only diamond mine, Ekati, by giving them hiring preference. Once employed, training programs ranging from apprenticeships to leadership development cover every aspect of operation and allow for career advancement opportunities. They even provide a voluntary Workplace Learning Program (WLP) to help alleviate literacy and numeracy challenges that some employees face.

    "Arguably, no other achievement best showcases the vision and strength of the [Training] Department than our unique Workplace Learning Program," says Dale Schierbeck, Training Program Developer for BHP Billiton's Ekati Diamond MineTM. "The success stories abound as workers acquire skills and overcome fears. For example, workers who had no phonemic awareness are now beginning to read and complete their operator checklists and logbooks independently."

    The NWT's only formal post-secondary institution, Aurora College, has also become involved with workplace training. They offer two training programs: Introduction to Diamonds and Introduction to Mine Training. Both programs deliver theoretical and practical components, with Mine Training providing on-site work experience. The end result is that the programs help students to secure positions in the industries they are studying because the skill developments they gain allow them to thrive in the workplace.

    The importance of continuous education and training to employees is apparent as more and more companies incorporate training into their professional development plans. Statistics Canada reports that in the year ending 1998, Canada's total expenditures on vocational training amounted to 5, 835.5 million dollars, with the Yukon at 17.1 million and the NWT reaching 38.1 million.

    Despite the costs, training and development programs are an intangible form of investment for companies. They bring innumerable benefits to the business and to the employee, Schierbeck affirms. "Improved essential skills mean greater involvement in all aspects of life and increased participation in the wage economy. In improving the essential skills of our employees and by providing a comprehensive training program, BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. will leave a lasting legacy in the north."

    As other companies follow suit, education in the north will surely prosper.

    Resources BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/index.asp

    Aurora College www.auroracollege.nt.ca

    Reprinted with permission from Realm: Creating Work You Want, published by YES Canada-BC. Available online at www.realm.net and in print by calling 604-412-4142. For more information, Phone: 604-412-4135 Fax: 604-412-4144 Email:info@realm.net


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