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Carpenters’ union helps provide training for Moose Cree First Nations

DCN NEWS SERVICES

THUNDER BAY, ONT.

The $2.6-billion Lower Mattagami River Hydro-electric Complex (LMRH) under construction by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) between Timmins, Ont. and James Bay will add more than 400,000 megawatts to the generating capacity of the big complex by 2015.

Between now and then, the OPG will continue to be a major employer in the area as about 1,100 or so workers build the development. The work calls for refurbishing three hydro generating stations and replacing a fourth along the river that flows into James Bay. Many of the workers employed are from the region’s Moose Cree First Nations (MCFN).

It has been an exciting time for people like Kim Radboume, executive director of SIBI Employment and Training, based in Moose Factory.

From the outset of the ambitious hydro program in 2010, the OPG and its partners reviewed the First Nations labour pool and training options to maximize their role in construction, says Radbourne, whose position is funded by the MCFN.

Her focus has been on getting young people from the community into trade apprenticeship programs.

Today there are 18 carpenters’ apprentices and 13 journeypersons from MCFN employed at the hydroelectric development. Of the apprentices, 15 came aboard as the result of carpentry skill level evaluations conducted by Carpenters Local 1669, Thunder Bay. Considering the sparse population, employing that many locals in the trade is significant, says Wayne Sohlman, vice-president, Local 1669. He says evaluations were important in identifying appropriate placement on the project. While a number of Aboriginals had carpentry experience in and around the community, others had none.

Sohlman, along with John Johanson, Local l669’s coordinator and business representative Renzo Rubert, were instrumental in the training and placement process.

Sohlman says when he first introduces a young person to trades training at the hydro project, he emphasizes that the learning process can be the start of a long-term career in the field, not just for a one-time job on the hydroelectric project. While those choosing to enrol in the apprenticeship program gain work hours on site, they are required to attend an eight-week apprenticeship course that run a total of three times over their 7,200 hours apprenticeship training at colleges in Thunder Bay, Timmins or Sudbury, Ont.

To support workers on site, SIBI Employment and Training hired a literacy instructor to work with students — most of whom speak Cree — in off-hours in preparation for apprenticeship exams. The idea is to the help them with parts of the English language they don’t normally see, including mathematical terminology required for carpentry, says Radboume.

Once carpenters meet apprenticeship requirements and achieve Red Seal Certification, they can work anywhere in Canada, she adds.

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