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Monday, 25 March 2013
Kirkland Lake Gold helps shape the future of mining in the north with a new generation of miners
Kirkland Lake Gold (TSE:KGI) (LON:KGI) is serious about investing in its future and has been actively recruiting and training young miners and encouraging them to live in the area not just for a few years, but for their entire careers.
The company has more than quadrupled its workforce since 2008, and has amassed a staff of over 1,000 as it gears up for future production targets at properties.
As at the end of February, the miner had seen a 104-employee increase for a total of 1,016 staff members - up from just 250 in 2008 – a true testament to its efforts to expand and ramp up its operations.
CEO Brian Hinchcliffe says hitting the 1,000 point represents a symbolic “reaching back” to the prior levels of direct employment that the Kirkland Lake area boasted, when mining there was in its heyday.
He adds that it’s not just the number of employees that is important to the company and the community it resides in, but stresses that it is the young demographic and the training they have gone though to perfect their skill set that is most noteworthy.
With 326 employees between the ages of 25 to 34, it is evident that young people coming to work at the mine are putting down roots and settling themselves and their families in Kirkland Lake, creating a whole new generation of miners in the area.
Hinchcliffe says that harkens back to the days of the mid 1980s when the area flourished, as there were many mining jobs that were considered “better paying” than most. Twenty years later, mining in the area had declined as the workforce aged and skill sets were not being replaced.
Now, with Kirkland Lake Gold having undertaken the process of training new, young employees with “a good 10 to 15 years in front of them”, he notes that the area is seeing a return to its historical employment balance.
In addition to bringing a young workforce to the area, the company says about two-thirds of its employees are settling in the community – thanks in part to its housing incentives.
“A core part of our housing program is to offer a certain amount to an employee that would help toward a down payment for example, to move into the Town of Kirkland Lake,” Hinchcliffe says.
“That ‘loan’ would then be forgiven over a period of years.”
As a result of initiatives such as this, 647 Kirkland Lake Gold employees, or 64 per cent of its work force, are living in and around the community, thus making it the area's largest employer.
Hinchcliffe notes that this has benefits for the entire community both directly – such as in the real estate sector – and indirectly, for the jobs that may be created from the influx in residents and services they require.
“The ripple effect goes well beyond the families of people working here at the mine.”
The company feels it is important to have its staff living close to its operations, and also offers competitive wages and a bonus structure to attract and retain workers. Through these efforts, it has been rewarded with a retention rate of over 92 per cent.
Employees also have access to a family doctor, a seven-day-on, seven-day-off work schedule and do not have to travel far to work as the mine is located in the town of Kirkland Lake.
In addition to adding youth to its workforce, more than half of Kirkland Lake Gold’s employees are miners. Of its employees, 625, or 62 per cent, work in its mining department.
Through its hiring process, which is akin to an apprenticeship program, Hinchcliffe explains that an inexperienced miner can be taken on in the capacity of “miner 3”.
In this position, the employee is brought into an underground environment slowly, operating machinery that would see them transport ore to the shaft, thus giving them time to become accustomed to the environment before being given more tasks.
After a three-month probation period, assuming that the employee has excelled in their training, they begin the process of achieving “miner 2” status.
Hinchcliffe says in this scenario, the “miner 2” would work alongside someone in a “miner 1” position - this being a “lead-hand” concept – benefitting from hands-on work alongside a more experienced employee.
As for the time it takes to achieve “miner 1 status”, Hinchcliffe says as with any job, it depends on the employee, but a good progression is 18 months to two years.
He adds that safety is an important aspect of the training offered at Kirkland Lake Gold, and attributes much of the success the company has seen in its training programs to his experienced staff.
“Our training department is amazing and consists of guys that have been in the industry for many years and as their careers wind down, they want to share and impart their skills on how to work safely underground.”
To have a successful mining business, Hinchcliffe says a company must invest in recruitment and training, but it all has to start with reserves and resources to support a long mine life.
“We invested a lot in exploration in the early years,” he notes, adding that the company’s explorations efforts have given it an existing four million ounces in reserves and resources.
With more exploration drilling, Kirkland Lake Gold is targeting 5 million ounces in all categories a couple of years from now, to support 200,000 ounce-plus production annually for 15 to 20 years.
Its project consists of 13,000 acres of five contiguous formerly producing gold mines - Macassa, Lake Shore, Wright Hargreaves, Teck-Hughes, and Kirkland Minerals - which historically produced 21 million ounces of gold grading 15.1 grams per ton and for the first time are being developed and explored under one owner.
Gold production restarted in 2005 from the most western portion of the camp, the Macassa mine, and the current focus is on expanding production to 2,200 tons per day from the historic Main/'04 Break, and a new discovery area, the South Mine Complex (SMC).