Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
There will be nearly 7,000 additional mining jobs in Northern Ontario by 2020, says a Conference Board of Canada study released last month. And to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, economist Thomas Townsend said the new economy will have to be more localized and more community-focused.
Townsend, president and founder of Townsend-Danis Advantage, provided the keynote address during the Think Globally, Act Locally presentation hosted by the North Superior Workforce Planning Board in Thunder Bay on Tuesday.
Townsend explained that the labour force has to be adaptive to changing economic forces, and that adaptation has to start at the local level. “It starts with the people and their capabilities and skills that are currently here, but it also includes their aspirations,” Townsend said during an interview following his address.
“The development of the region will occur, but it has to match with skills people have in order to fit with that development and the kinds of things they want to do with their life, the kinds of lives they want to lead, and the kinds of communities they want to form.”
Townsend said this will involve reading the future, changing the system for positive adjustment, readying the region and making it happen.
One of the most significant challenges will be training, he said.
Townsend argues that the regional labour force must determine what training is required and when.
When it comes to mining developments, future jobs will not focus on mining alone.
The labour force has to be prepared to fill those other positions, he said.
“There are aspects that are going to be important. . . . Infrastructure projects, increased communication between communities.
“But there will be elements of each of those development areas that will be unique.
“In some cases it may be communities who will participate more in the services that support the mining industry, it may be communities that are more directly involved in the mining itself. Those are decisions that local communities have to make.”
While Northwestern Ontario is a large area and what works in Greenstone might not work in Thunder Bay, Townsend said different regions can develop a localized and community-focused economy to create a unique identity.
“It will fit much better with the aspirations that people have for their communities and the communities they are participating in,” he said.
“A solution that makes absolute sense for Hamilton might make no sense for Thunder Bay or the North Superior region.”