Northern mining communities prosper as south struggles – by Chip Martin/QMI Agency (December 12, 2011)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Mining analyst Sudol said the high-tech nature of mining
in 2011 is not well understood. “We all talk about high
tech in Kitchener-Waterloo and Silicon Valley in California
and we are sort of ignoring an extraordinarily interesting
concentration of mining technology, research and education
in Sudbury.”

The same thing killing jobs in southwestern Ontario is creating them by the thousands in Northern Ontario.

The industrialization and urbanization of China, Brazil and India is causing the flight of well-paid industrial jobs to those emerging economies. The fallout is unemployment in Ontario’s industrial sector and unemployment rates soaring to 9.8% in London and 10.8% in Windsor.

But the loss for the south is a gain for the north.

Unemployment is low in places such as Kirkland Lake and Sudbury. Mines and mine-related businesses are clamouring for workers.

“The industrialization and urbanization of China, India and Brazil and many other developing countries will be ongoing for many generations to come,” says respected mining consultant and analyst Stan Sudol.

“They can’t modernize without the products that we dig out of the ground, and Northern Ontario has many of the mineral products the world needs,” he said.

“The economic impact will be felt both in the north and in the south.”

In the north, the phenomenon is being called “the commodities supercycle,” recalling the boom times after the Second World War when pent-up demand for consumer products in North America and the rebuilding of Europe caused Canada’s mines to work full tilt.

Today, with a shortage of miners, newcomers to the north can take a basic six-week course in mining theory and safety at Cambian College in Sudbury or Northern College in Kirkland Lake and find a job underground that can pay $100,000 or more a year.

In Kirkland Lake, a town built on gold, economic development director Wilfred Hass said best estimates put the unemployment rate there at 4.5 to 5%, half that of London and Windsor.

Because mining jobs pay so well, the retail and service sector has trouble keeping workers.
“It’s difficult to keep anybody” in non-mining jobs, he said.

Aside from new workers, the town of about 10,000 also needs new housing. At its historic peak as a gold mining centre 70 years ago, Kirkland Lake had about 25,000 residents but until recently had undergone hard times.

Just six hours north of Toronto, the town has considered holding job fairs in Southern Ontario in a bid to find workers for the five mines within a half-hour radius of it, Hass said.

The largest, Kirkland Lake Gold Inc., has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Its 830-member workforce is projected to grow to more than 1,000 along with 500 contractors in the near future.

In Sudbury, Ian Wood, director of the Greater Sudbury Economic Development Corp., said with 12,000 to 14,000 workers the mining supply and services sector outstrips mining jobs by a factor of 2.5 and demand is unrelenting for skilled trades.

Unlike Kirkland Lake that needs miners, Sudbury has more openings for above-ground jobs.

“In our case it’s more of the folks needed with technical skills,” Wood said. “You need the right skill set. It’s not like the old days when a strong back and a good mind would take you a long way.”

Mining today has gone high-tech to deal with practical issues of locating and removing minerals and dealing with safety concerns in mines that go as deep as 10,000 feet, Wood said.

“It’s an industry that requires brainpower, not just muscle and pickaxes, which is sometimes the perception.”

Mining analyst Sudol said the high-tech nature of mining in 2011 is not well understood.

“We all talk about high tech in Kitchener-Waterloo and Silicon Valley in California and we are sort of ignoring an extraordinarily interesting concentration of mining technology, research and education in Sudbury.”

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