The Northern College Training Division is working to remedy a shortage of heavy equipment operators by bringing training directly to the community in need.

When a jobsite is in need of operators, Northern College is able to deploy a portable training program to teach local residents to operate the machinery required to get the job done.

“We run heavy equipment operator programs out of our Timmins campus, but we never put a barrier on where we might be able to go,” said Christine Heavens, executive director of community, business development and employment services.

“This program is portable. As long as there is equipment, and a demand, we can bring it anywhere.”

The college will partner with industries or communities in locations with a skilled labour shortage.

“It’s so the investment isn’t just on some random pit, but somewhere that you need work to be done,” Heavens said.

The college will work with the community to identify projects that could double as training grounds for future operators. If the community is able to pay for the required building materials, the college provides the training to complete the job.

“The students can do their training under the work of a local person and our instructors,” Heavens explained. “Let’s not have people driving up and down a road for the point of driving up and down a road. Let’s have them do real work.”


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For example, Sagamok First Nation required heavy equipment operators to work on rehabilitating a landfill.

Northern college construction course“We worked with them to identify where in the community there is work that needed to be done and it was a great success,” Heavens said. “If we’re going to train them, it makes sense to have them do real work and have the community reap the benefits.”

Generally, students are trained to operate graders, loaders, dozers, backhoes and haul trucks.

“If someone came in with a special type of equipment, that’s no problem,” Heavens said. “We seek out and we secure the instructor for that type of training.”

As well, a part of the college’s mandate is to ensure accessibility. Heavens explained their definition of accessibility goes beyond the norm.

“We’re not just talking about those with learning disabilities, we’re talking about those that require access to education,” she said. “We have to rebundle and repackage things to bring them to where they need to be.”

Ontario has the highest number of remote First Nations in Canada, with 78,000 school-age children. Furthermore, 22 per cent of First Nation adults have a high school diploma or equivalent.

“It’s clear that education and well-defined career pathways for indigenous people are critical for the success of the economy,” Heavens said, noting the college has 17 First Nations within its catchment area.

As well, there are 28 operating mines in the school’s catchment area, Northern College has taken a similar hands-on approach for its various mining programs.

The diamond driller assistant program, for example, is a 10-week course developed with several drilling companies and hosted through the Haileybury School of Mines, which has been training miners for more than a century.

“The graduates from this program are picked up pretty quick. Often right at graduation day, interviews are happening after they cross the stage,” Heavens said.

At the Glencore Kidd mine in Timmins, students in the hard rock mining program complete 100 per cent of their learning in an underground environment.

“They’re in their shutdown phase, so they’re not interested in hiring the students. They’re slowly seeing their workforce diminish,” Heavens said. “And yet, this program has a 94 per cent employment rate.”

She added there isn’t a geographic limitation on where the college will travel to provide mining or heavy equipment training.

“We do international work as well. We do work up in Nunavut,” Heavens said. “As long as we have great partnerships and can help someone define what skills they require, we can customize something to meet their needs.