Inco tackles skills shortage for Voiseys Bay processing

Inco tackles skills shortage for Voiseys Bay processing

Managers with Inco Ltd. are counting on luring homesick Newfoundlanders to solve a skills shortage for the construction of a nickel processing facility.

With skilled trades workers already in short supply – and the provincial job situation getting tighter because of much higher wages in Alberta – Inco admits that it will have a challenge filling thousands of jobs when construction is expected to begin in Long Harbour in 2008.

“To attract and retain the technical skills required – not only to do the engineering design and constructions management and supervision but also the operations phase – we see this as a real issue,” said Joe Shirley, project manager of Voisey’s Bay Nickel.

Apart from needing to hire about 1,200 tradespeople, Voisey’s Bay Nickel – an Inco subsidiary that went into production late last year – will also need to hire a wide range of technical specialists.

Shirley said the project will need about 300 “on the engineering side” alone, in addition to another 300 working in construction management.

As well, another 400 will be needed to staff the processing plant when construction is complete.

Shirley is counting on drawing back some of the homegrown technicians and labourers who are now in other jurisdictions.

“It’s not often you have a large project like this that’s maybe an hour, 90 minutes away from people’s homes,” said Shirley.

That appeal should resonate with expatriate workers, said Anthony Careen, a mechanical engineer who recently relocated to the Placentia Bay area from Toronto.

“I just really like the Newfoundland lifestyle,” said Careen. “If you can actually come to Newfoundland, your money goes a lot further. It’s a nicer culture.”

Shirley said Voisey’s Bay Nickel acknowledges that wages will be an issue, given a national shortage in many trades.

“We’re happy to pay a decent wage as long as we get the productivity that accompanies that,” he said.

Inco is running a test facility in Argentia, to see if hydrometallurgical processing will work on the type of rock mined at Voisey’s Bay. If the water-based technique – considered cleaner than conventional smelting – is not appropriate, Inco has committed to build a conventional processing plant.

Construction of the plant, which will require government approval, will take about 31/2 years.

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