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Kitsaki moves into potash; developing opportunities for indigenous leadership and employment.

A new joint venture in Saskatchewan's potash sector is looking to develop long-term sustainable employment and leadership opportunities for the province's indigenous peoples. The partnership between Kitsaki Management and the Procon Group of Companies, known as Kitsaki Procon Potash – KPP, builds on a long relationship between Kitsaki and Procon. The two companies previously carried out a mining, milling, and construction contract in the La Ronge Gold Belt in Northern Saskatchewan. Procon is a full-service provider for the mining industry, from building and operating complex open pit and underground mining developments, as well as executing industrial and civil infrastructure projects. Procon's Industrial business unit which manages work in the Saskatchewan potash sector is based in Saskatoon.

The KPP initiative has resulted in a multi-year, multi-site agreement to execute mining and industrial services work in PotashCorp's Saskatchewan mines. It is also intended to support PotashCorp's strategic focus on Aboriginal engagement and job skills development.

"This represents an opportunity for Kitsaki to get more engaged in the potash sector," states Russell Roberts, CEO of Kitsaki. "We recognize that it is an industry that will grow and be strong for many years to come. It also gives diversity to some of our projects, enabling us to explore opportunities with clients and companies outside of the northern region, which is our typical geographic region."

"These aren't short term arrangements for us, but long-term commitments," explains John McVey, CEO of Procon. "Stability of leadership and dependability of our partner are what we are looking for, and Kitsaki brings that.

Fostering strong partnerships and joint venture agreements with indigenous groups across Canada have been priorities for both Procon and Kitsaki since each of the companies were founded. They have worked to build capacity through training and participation in apprenticeship and trade-related employment for the indigenous people living in the work region.

"This is one of the core commitments of our company," emphasizes Roberts. "This will increase our capacity to further provide these opportunities for indigenous people in Saskatchewan, certainly for Lac La Ronge Indian Band members, but we will also be able to extend that opportunity to indigenous people in other regions as well."

"What's different about this venture is it is not just about creating employment, but also about developing indigenous leadership," says McVey. "Our commitment is to provide much more than entry level positions."

Besides providing opportunities underground in various skilled trades (mechanical, electrical, civil, etc.) and in equipment maintenance and industrial construction in surface facilities, the development of future indigenous leadership will be through the employment of engineers who are interested in pursuing a project management career path.

"As a CEO, what I enjoy the most is finding young engineers and helping them develop," says McVey. "We've already spoken with academic institutions about their programs, specifically the University of Saskatchewan's College of Engineering and its Indigenous Peoples Industry Partnership Program, which was just announced last January."

KKP will hire indigenous students enrolled in engineering and technical colleges for work terms, internships and summer jobs. This will provide good exposure to the underground mining and industrial services in the potash sector, which Roberts and McVey hope could lead to full-time employment with them or other companies in the sector following graduation. Other potential partners include Gabriel Dumont Institute – Apprenticeship Subsidy Program, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic (formerly SIAST).

Kitsaki will be directly involved with all aspects of the project management and delivery of services, including the recruitment and training of other qualified indigenous workers in the region. An apprenticeship program will be developed at all work sites, with an agreed to percentage of indigenous apprentices integrated with the work crews. Currently 70 percent of Kitsaki's total labour force (approximately 1000 employees) are indigenous peoples from different communities. Future KPP staffing needs will lead to opportunities for this workforce.

Both McVey and Roberts identify that one of their challenges will be providing adequate support for workers when they travel to the mine sites and away from their own support systems. For some people, it may be their first time away from home for an extended period of time.

"If we can support people to move around to the various locations effectively, that will accelerate their own development as well as support the business," says McVey.

Roberts remembers his own experience when he moved away from home for university.

"It was pretty scary, pretty intimidating," he recalls. "We want to be able to create a situation where they are able to be part of the community they have moved to. We need to determine how we can help so that when they decide they want to participate, they can be successful."

He lists mentorship and financial support, including extra assistance for families, as being key contributions to his own success as a student, which led into his business career. He adds there are many different ways KPP could offer supports.

"The KPP partnership is about building capacity and leadership for indigenous peoples in our province," emphasizes Roberts. "Our partnership with Procon has really flourished and I'm excited about what we can accomplish."