Labour ministry invests over $1 million to train skilled workers in the North

By Colleen Romaniuk
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sudbury Star

Ontario’s labour minister visited NORCAT in Sudbury on Friday to announce more than $1 million in funding to train 645 people in Northern Ontario for jobs in the construction, forestry, and mining industries. 

NORCAT will receive $582,000 to train 20 people at its Thunder Bay location to become heavy equipment operators in the forestry sector.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1687 in Sudbury will also receive $467,500 to develop a virtual training centre to teach 625 electrical workers who live in remote northern and First Nations communities.

Morte McNaughton, the Ontario Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, said the money will go a long way to address the shortage of skilled workers in the north.

“Jobs in the skilled trades offer a strong foundation that you can support your family on. These jobs are a source of pride where you can show your sons and daughters that hard work pays off,” he told a press conference in Sudbury.

“For many, especially those from our Indigenous communities, jobs like these might seem like a dream, but achieving this dream is possible and we’re offering works a hand up to help them get there.” 

In the first six months of this year, there were more than 2,600 postings in the north for jobs in the skilled trades, he added. 

“Each of these jobs is a paycheck waiting to be collected. Heavy equipment operators make more than $31 an hour, logging machine operators earn about $26 per hour, and power system electricians can make more than $44 an hour,” said the minister. 

“Having just spent the past two days driving across Northern Ontario, I know these people are ready and willing to fill these jobs and they just need the right training.” 

NORCAT’s new training program will provide participants with the skills and safety training to operate machinery to build roads, move minerals, and harvest forests. 

Trainees will receive free in-class and hands-on training over a period of five to six weeks at the training and innovation centre’s forest and mining operations in Thunder Bay. Free lodging, as well as transportation to and from the training site, will be provided. 

NORCAT CEO Don Duval said this program’s main target is to recruit workers from vulnerable communities in northwestern Ontario. 

This includes people from rural and remote northern communities, First Nations, and women looking to get into the mining, forestry or construction sectors. 

As things progress, NORCAT plans to expand the program to include all of Northern Ontario. 

“With this funding, we are providing unique, hands-on, experiential and transferable skills to provide workers not only with the skills and competence, but also the confidence necessary for both a productive and safe career,” said Duval. 

“Our trainees can expect to learn the operating fundamentals of rock trucks, bulldozers, and frontend loaders among other mechanical equipment while also gaining important leadership and soft skill training.”

IBEW Local 1687 will use its portion of the funding to purchase new audiovisual equipment and develop an online curriculum so that workers can receive safety and equipment training, leadership development, and business skills. 

This training will help workers upgrade their skills in careers that include powerline technicians, network cabling specialists, electrical apprentices and journeypersons. 

“The IBEW Local 1687 represents over 600 electrical workers in Northern Ontario. Unfortunately, there are challenges when trying to administer training to our members. As a local, we have struggled to facilitate training because of our large jurisdiction,” said Kevin Gaudaur, assistant business manager for the union. 

“The IBEW will now be able to offer training to our members regardless of their location in our virtual training centre. Come October, members will have state-of-the-art training available at their fingertips.”

The union’s jurisdiction includes the districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Nipissing, Sudbury, Timiskaming, Manitoulin Island, and Parry Sound. 

Creating a virtual training centre will allow the union to reach more of its members, especially those who live in remote northern and First Nations communities. 

Once the curriculum is developed, workers will have access to training modules both on the job site and at home. Classes will also be videotaped for workers who do not have access to high-speed internet. 

“We will be developing professional-grade training modules that will be accessible to our members on the fly. We will also be able to livestream training courses from our facility in Sudbury for our members throughout the north,” said Gaudaur. 

“Not only does this allow us to train members who reside in remote communities but allows us to tackle the new challenges that we have all faced over the past two years. The electrical industry will become more skilled, much safer, and increasingly productive because of this project.” 

The virtual training centre will only be available to the local’s membership intially, but there are talks about expanding training opportunities to the general public. 

Gaudaur expects that the development of the training modules will begin in September. 

“These programs are market-driven solutions to get hundreds of people back into meaningful jobs. This will help industries that are the lifeblood of northern communities get the talent they need to grow and prosper,” McNaughton added. 

“Across Northern Ontario, 10,000 skilled and unskilled jobs are going unfilled, and it’s mission-critical that we recruit Indigenous peoples, women, and people from at-risk communities to fill these jobs.”  

NORCAT’s training program will be offered from Sept. 13 to Dec. 3, 2021. To apply, contact NORCAT’s Thunder Bay office at 855-966-7228, ext. 324. 

IBEW Local 1687 will offer training beginning on Nov. 1, 2021. To apply, contact Chase Beaudoin, the union’s market development manager, at 249-878-0227 or email chase@ibew1687.org.