$23M program aims to create skills, on-the-job training for Indigenous peoples

Labrador is hoping to benefit in a big way from the Voisey's Bay mine expansion, and that starts with getting more people Indigenous people involved in the project.

Voisey's Bay mine expansion creates hundreds of new job opportunities

The new round of funding will help prepare Labrador residents for jobs at the Voisey's Bay mine. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador is teaming up with the federal government on a new $23.6 million-program designed to get more Indigenous people working at the Vale mine in Voisey's Bay.

On Tuesday, officials from the Nunatsiavut government, Innu Nation, NunatuKavut, Vale, and the federal and provincial governments came together with the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to announce the project.

It's being led by the Labrador Aboriginal Training Partnership (LATP), and will help train workers for the mine, by giving them hands-on training experiences and skills development. 

The province pledged $3 million over four years for the program, while the federal government's skills and partnership fund provided $9.6 million. 

"We cannot sustain operations bringing people from outside. We have to have locals here working with us, building careers for the long run," said Joao Zanon, Vale's project director for the Voisey's Bay mine expansion project

"Our history shows that we did that in the past and worked well. You go today to the sites, you see that over 50 per cent of the workforce is Aboriginal and we know this is the key to the future."

Government officials said the new program will help give over 400 Indigenous people in Labrador the chance to work at the Vale mine site.

Vale's Joao Zanon says the mine wouldn't be able to survive without contributions from Indigenous employees. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Vale announced the expansion of the Voisey's Bay mine earlier this month.

The mine sits on Nunatsiavut and Innu Nation traditional land near Nain on Labrador's north coast, and contains one of the world's richest deposits of nickel, as well as quantities of cobalt and copper.

Government officials and Vale have said they expect the expansion to create 1,700 jobs. 

New training simulator in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

On Tuesday, the federal and provincial government also announced the addition of a $1.2 million "state-of-the-art" underground mining training simulator that will be kept at CNA's Happy Valley-Goose Bay campus.

"It's a big boon because this gives some clients who may not be very familiar with underground mining training," said Keith Jacque, the executive director of LATP.

"It's a chance to give them a one, two day thing, to kind of say 'Ya maybe I'm interested in this.'"

Penote Rich is a student at CNA from Sheshatshiu and had a chance to try out the simulator this week.

The underground mine simulator is demoed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He said it was nice to see what it will be like to go underground in a mine without actually having to leave Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

"I've gotta finish my program here before I try looking for a job," he said.

"Once I get a bit more practice on the simulator, it's probably one of the jobs I would try … going underground."

Penote Rich, a student at CNA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, says he's considering a career in mining. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) covered most of the machine's cost, while the provincial government kicked in about $130,000, and CNA contributed $250,000. 

Premier Dwight Ball, on hand for the announcement, said it's money well spent. 

"I think this really speaks to safety but it also helps preparing our students for when they actually go underground," he said. "It's a great day, big investment, of course."

With files from Jacob Barker