As the sparkle from diamond revenues begins to dim in the NWT, with the reality of mine closures looming in coming years, opportunities need to exist to ensure the critical mineral sector can ramp up with ease.
One element of that is to ensure there is a well-trained workforce ready to be hired to mine, handle and transport zinc, lithium, copper and rare earths instead of chasing diamonds down kimberlite pipes.
As the attraction, training and retention of workers — whether they be from the territory or outside of our borders — remain major concerns to the GNWT and mining industry as a whole, an end-of-mine plan at Diavik Diamond Mine caught the attention of attendees at the recent 22nd Annual Arctic Energy & Resource Symposium in Calgary.
It was described as having the potential to become a benchmark in best practice for closure for other mines in the North and potentially Canada.
“The philosophy behind it is we want people to feel secure, that if they stay with Diavik until the end, they know their families will be taken care of — they don’t need to jump ship today and find employment elsewhere because they’re worried about their financial future,” Diavik Diamond Mine president & COO Angela Bigg told a morning session.
“I think one of the things that I’m particularly proud of is what we call the Diavik My Path program for employees and contractors. I’m reasonably confident My Path is a North American first, certainly better than anything I’ve seen in Rio Tinto — basically, it’s like a choose your own adventure.”
The Diavik My Path program offers employee support on five paths as the 1,200-person workforce that includes contractors winds down and finishes reclamation.
Diavik is located approximately 300-km northeast of Yellowknife on a 20 sq-km island in Lac de Gras. Diavik is now expected to end commercial production in the first quarter of 2026. The buildings on site have been designed to be removed without a trace and the embankments will be reclaimed and lake water will flow back into the open pit.
As the workforce is drawn down, one-on-one career counselling will be offered to help employees and contractors decide what path they want to take.
That could include being redeployed at another Rio Tinto operation; working for another mine in the North, perhaps Ekati or Gahcho Kué; accessing training opportunities; possibly retiring; or even starting their own businesses.
But it’s the financial incentives providing robust financial security for those who stay on as long as required which had the conference audience abuzz.
“So we’ve got two parts to the financial incentives of the My Path program: part one is a completion bonus, which is if you stay with us until your job is no longer required. It’s three months salary plus, prorated bonus. And from a severance perspective, the mathematical calculation is three quarters of a month’s salary for every year’s service with a minimum of three months.
“So if we had someone sign on with Diavik today, and their role finished up in two years, at a minimum, they would walk away with five months salary, short term incentive bonus or alignment.”
For someone who had been employed onsite since the beginning, that severance could be just under three years, she said, noting medical coverage is included.
Sitting beside the top Diavik executive was NWT Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment Mineral & Petroleum Resources ADM Menzie McEachern.
“This is a key time in our partnership with Diavik … (and) what that means to us is really a smooth transition or as smooth as possible a transition to mine closure and a lasting positive legacy from Diavik,” said McEachern. “You want people in the NWT to look at the whole Diavik experience and be able to say that the benefits that have come NWT residents and businesses over the years from Diavik outweighed any downside either now or in the future.
“We know that Diavik has brought billions of spending with NWT businesses and thousands of person years of employment and even more in terms of training our labor force and supporting our community organizations.
“Those critical minerals mines, as they approach final construction decisions, will absolutely need the skills that we have developed over the years in the diamond mines, and the skills both of individual people and workers, as well as the skills and services available from NWT businesses.”
The rest of the two-day conference provided a wealth of informative speakers on some key areas of future development in the North. Of course, a lack of proper infrastructure of all types was a major focus of discussion.
As was the federal government’s hard push towards renewables and away from carbon, a major polluter.
While mines have relied on diesel generation, they are moving towards electric vehicles where possible and in 2012 Diavik built one of the largest hybrid wind-diesel power facilities anywhere at a remote mine site.
However, much of the key renewable energy technology is still in its infancy when it comes to being able to withstand the demands of the Northern climate. Not to mention the new and upgraded infrastructure needed to produce and distribute electricity.
“We need to ensure that the federal government understands that we’re in a unique situation — that we have these unique challenges — so, you know, cut us some slack, give us some flexibility, or if you do want us to achieve the same level of GHG reduction to say, per capita, as you would expect, the Metro Toronto area to achieve, then that’s going to have to come with serious federal investment,” said McEachern.
“If that investment doesn’t come, then (show us) some understanding that we’re not going to be able to achieve the same level of GHG reductions in the North, but still want to see development happen in a responsible way.”