Once a student support assistant, Gabriel Ulayok, on the urging of his brother and a friend, signed up at Meadowbank Gold Mine as a haul truck driver in 2012.

Gabriel Ulayok, right, seen here with one of his trainers Richard Harvey, stepped into Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s Mine Career Path program at Meadowbank Gold Mine in 2012 and has now achieved mastery of all of the mine’s production machinery. photo courtesy of Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd.

Almost six years later, he is the mine’s face of success – qualified to operate the RH120 shovel, which, as training coordinator Gabriel-Antoine Cote notes, is “one of the largest and most sophisticated pieces of equipment in the global mining industry.”

“Gabriel is also the first Inuit employee to reach the highest position within our Mine Career Path program – an innovative system designed by the Meadowbank people development team, designed to support the upward career progression of our Inuit employees,” said Cote.

Ulayok enjoyed driving the haul truck, he said, and that started with a four-week training program to learn how to drive it as he’d never done so before. The next step was Haul Truck Class 3 at 1000 hours. Two thousand hours later, and approximately a year after starting with the mine, Ulayok achieved Haul Truck Class 2. Finally, attaining Haul Truck Class 1 meant he could move on to auxiliary relief operator involving other pieces of equipment, such as dozers.

“The Mine Career Path is basically a progression from an entry-level haul truck operator up to where Gabriel is now as a production relief operator,” said Daniel Hearn, one of Ulayok’s trainers.

“Gabriel runs every piece of equipment we have at our mine, aside from drills, so as far as the production side goes.”

After Auxiliary Relief came Auxiliary Class 3 at 2000 hours, then Auxiliary Class 2, again with 2000 hours. With each step came new machines, such as graders and excavators. Then came Auxiliary Class 1 and, finally, Ulayok’s current status as production relief operator.

“Now that Gabriel is production relief, he’s been training on all the production equipment, so the big loader 992, the production shovel PC1250, the 385 and the RH120,” said Hearn.

When Ulayok climbs into that machine, the RH120 shovel, this demonstrates more than 10,000 hours of training.

“The success that Gabriel has achieved since 2012 … he’s made a career out of his life in that short period of time. And at the same time making a good living for his family,” said Hearn.

Ulayok agrees. He works a two-week in, two-week out rotation, which means when he’s at home in Arviat he can “go hunting, boating, go fishing,” he said, adding time out on the land and spending time with his family are important to him during his two weeks at home.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me because I have to leave my family – my (two) boys, my (two) girls, my wife,” he said, adding in winter he sometimes gets stuck at the mine for an extra day or so due to the weather.

“That’s the hard part,” he said. “But I like this job operating the big machines.”

Ulayok’s new dream is to become a supervisor, which would include training and mentoring others along their career paths and supervising the crew.

His success is all the more important to him, as he is following in his dad’s footsteps. His father was a heavy equipment operator for the hamlet for more than 35 years.

“It takes time and effort to climb up, to become what you want to be. But you can become anything you want to be,” said Ulayok.

“Follow your dream.”

Michele LeTourneau

Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following...

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