Good afternoon, and thank you, honourable members of Parliament, for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.
I thought I'd tell you a brief story about Ontario Hydro. Ontario Power Generation's roots were in Ontario Hydro. Prior to 1950 we were almost exclusively hydro. In 1999, when the system was going to be deregulated, Ontario Hydro split into five separate companies, and the generation division turned into Ontario Power Generation.
In terms of our company profile, we have quite a diversified mix of electricity generation, including nuclear, hydro, and thermal, and our organization is spread throughout the province. It is very geographically dispersed with plants in many of the rural and northern communities.
Like many other organizations, we will soon be facing a demographic challenge as one-third of our population is close to retirement. With a complex business and a long training curve for our employees, it's important to get out in front of this.
Given that we have a strong presence in areas that are close to aboriginal communities, it's incumbent upon us to capitalize on this as well as growing these partnerships. The aboriginal youth population is the fastest growing in Canada, and it seems like a natural opportunity.
One thing you're going to hear me talk about is the lower Mattagami River project, which is currently one of the largest capital projects in northern Ontario at $2.6 billion. What you will hear about is a partnership we have been able to construct there.
As a further backdrop, Ontario Power Generation has a presidential-level policy on first nation and Métis relations, and the whole focus of that policy is on building long-term mutually beneficial relationships with the aboriginal and Métis communities. One of the key thrusts of our policy is around business units engaging local first nation and Métis communities in order to bring about more capacity building, employment, and outreach. I'll give you some quick examples of each.
As to capacity building, we've created our own national aboriginal achievement award, the John Wesley Beaver. We take two aboriginal youth, one female and one male, who have excelled and have contributed to their community, and we provide them with a work term. It has proved to be most beneficial.
An example in terms of employment is developing unique partnerships to create jobs and training opportunities. Lastly, the outreach is around strong ties to local band offices.
The strongest partnership we've been involved in is the lower Mattagami. This is an initiative—Sibi, as it's called—that was established in March 2010 with the Moose Cree Nation, MoCreebec, TTN, and Métis. Through funding from the federal and provincial governments, and our partner, Kiewit, as well as the building trades unions, we have provided a training and employment initiative. What it has resulted in is the Mattagami aboriginal project. We have $250 million in aboriginal-only contracts in areas such as security and catering. We have over 900 first nation individuals in our database, and we are employing 100 to 200 through contracts for work on that project. Right now on this project, there are 600 to 800 individuals on any given day. At the peak, it will be 1,200, so it has been a substantial achievement. The breakthrough has come through getting the training. We have an employee readiness program where we've been able to assess people's skills, and then really key in on opportunities where critical skills are required and work with the communities to build that.
In terms of other initiatives, we also have worked with the Electricity Sector Council on a three-year program on aboriginal workforce participation. It's focused on two pillars. One is attracting, recruiting, and retraining aboriginals to industry, and the second is providing aboriginal communities with an awareness of the careers and the opportunities that exist in the sector. A great example of an initiative has been the aboriginal youth camps. We've opened up camps to not only help aboriginal youth explore career opportunities, but also to impress upon them the value of math and sciences in their academic training as they look to future careers.
In terms of barriers to skills development, the slide identifies some of them, but I want to give you a bit of a flavour of some of the things we've done to address the barriers.
Those start with something called the “native circle”, an employee resource group within our organization. They are all first nations employees. They provide support to first nations individuals when they come to work for OPG. As well, they provide some awareness-raising within our own employee group that has been very beneficial.
Second, when we're in our northern communities—recognizing some of my colleagues' comments about the lack of Internet access—we actually go out to the first nations locations and talk to them, help them with their resumés, engage them directly on what the opportunities are, and be a lot more proactive on that front.
Third, pertaining to the lower Mattagami project, two things have been done. One is that a social advocate is being employed when we have first nations individuals come to the lower Mattagami project. It is isolated, and the individuals are often away from their community. In a lot of cases when they are younger employees, it's the first time that they've been away. The social advocate provides a support system for them when they're there. Alternatively, our contractor, Kiewit, has engaged The Wesley Group to provide cultural awareness training to the rest of the community at the lower Mattagami project.
I would also note that we recognize the importance to Cree culture of hunting and fishing. During that season, the first nations employees are afforded additional vacation days to ensure that they can participate in that activity.
I thought I would also provide just a few recommendations from our perspective. Those are around three key thrusts.
The first is around ensuring the linkage between industry and partnerships with the first nations. The success of our partnership with Sibi was that we involved the community, communicated our skill requirements, and engaged the community members early to help integrate the local population into the workforce. We were very proactive. We provided career awareness and targeted education. Often we found that first nations people may have been interested in heavy equipment, for instance, and instead we had opportunities in other key skills areas, so we tried to refocus their energy into areas where their skills would be most required.
The second is in terms of sponsorship of placement programs. Practical work placements, especially for people who had not been in the workforce for a period of time, allowed them to check out the work opportunity and gain their confidence. That led to some very beneficial results, particularly in the lower Mattagami.
The last one is around culturally relevant skills and innovative training solutions, so ensuring, further to what my colleagues have said, the customizing of the skills and training required, and bringing some of those opportunities and training to the actual first nations location. Often we have found that it's difficult for them; they don't always want to leave. If we can bring the training to them, with good-quality results, then it really has made quite an impact in terms of our moving forward.
I would welcome any questions the committee has.