People could give it a try

John Kelly, the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793 Northwestern Ontario supervisor, demonstrates an interactive backhoe that spectators could try their hand at during the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Prosperity Northwest trade show in February in Thunder Bay.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 has represented the unionized sector of the construction industry including the operation of heavy equipment, mobile cranes, tower cranes, concrete pumps and other equipment.

With the evolving mining sector, which is notorious for heavy equipment operation, the union has turned its focus there and is looking to establish a training centre in Thunder Bay and is looking for people to train.

John Kelly, the union’s Northwestern Ontario Supervisor, described how their representation of 1,000 members at the Baffinland iron ore mine in Nunavut has “morphed” them in a new direction.

“We are not just in the construction industry, we are also breaking out in mining,” Kelly said. “We are developing some new curriculum that lends itself to the adaptation of our construction workforce into the mining industry through our training organization, the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario.”

One of the challenges faced by the union is location.

Kelly says that although they’ve had a footprint in Northwestern Ontario since the early 1960s, they’ve never been able to provide the area training. He added that training for mobile and tower craning takes place at Morrisburg, Ont., on the St. Lawrence Seaway, while concrete pump training happens at their head office in Oakville, Ontario.

“We are now looking at securing property in Northwestern Ontario with the advent of opening a training facility up here,” he said. “It may not encompass our apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship portfolios — we already have those devised in different locations. But it may look at mining readiness, equipment skills, upgrades, capacity building for individuals, and the ability to provide localized training to the communities of Northwestern Ontario.”

Kelly says the union is promoting that agenda by working with some community partners with First Nations and are attending many trade shows. Kelly represented the union at the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Prosperity Northwest expo last month.

“We’re hoping to bring this training, which has been available to all communities in the past, into their own backyard. That’s what our expansion is. That’s what our plan is going to be,” he said.

“Thunder Bay is the main city in what we consider District Four of our international. Because of that, we have a satellite office here in Thunder Bay, which looks like it is going to be the mining hub of the future. So we are looking at expanding our training capabilities here within or just on the outskirts of Thunder Bay.”

Kelly says they want to get away from rental spaces and to have one area office that is owned by the membership in every district.

“It’s been challenging to find an appropriate piece of property that meets the confines of a dedicated office space, but also allows us the freedom to do training in the backyard,” he said.

“There are zoning and environmental issues, and we have to be cautious of everything that we’re going to be doing. Certain municipalities and districts won’t allow a transfer in order to perform that particular type of training, so we’re struggling a little bit with that. But we’re hoping that in the very near future here, we will be able to secure something so that we will have the ability to perform training here.”

Kelly added full-on apprenticeship training will happen at their southern Ontario facilities. The Thunder Bay site will be used for upgrading, rock truck driving, and mining readiness types of training.

The union is able to provide this education thanks to their membership union dues, trust fund and some federal and provincial government training funds.

Kelly said they have apprenticeship programs that they promote to anyone who wants to “break out” in the industry, which is covered by the trust fund.

“However, there is an entrance fee to join the union if you’re a viable candidate, requiring a Grade 12 diploma in most cases for the apprenticeship registration program in Ontario,” he said. “It is a voluntary Red Seal certification program for any earth-moving that we do and it is a mandatory Red Seal certification for any of the mobile or tower crane training you do. It’s a very costly endeavour to train someone to become a competent, registered individual.”

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