Riel Copenace’s dream of being part of a team is coming true.
He, along with 12 other graduates from the Mill Operators trainee program and eight graduates from the Haul Truck Training program, will be joining the New Gold team at its Rainy River Project north of Barwick.
“I grew up in Kenora and had the chance to observe the modern wonders all around me,” Copenace said during his valedictorian address as part of the graduation event held Thursday at the Copper River Inn here.
“I saw convoys of 18-wheelers drive through town and heavy equipment, machines digging up the streets,” he recalled.
“These working crews motivated me to join the team, like my father, who was part of the Boise Cascade Paper Mill Co.
“He was part of a team,” Copenace continued. “He enjoyed going to work and coming home safely every day.
“I’m sure many people have had the same dream to be part of something bigger; to be part of a team.
“Today, our graduation class has that opportunity to join a team,” he remarked.
“Better yet, to join a family, to join New Gold’s family.”
The Mill Operators trainee program had three valedictorians in Copenace, Leonard Johnson, and Lionel Horton while Nathan Councillor offered his reflections on behalf of the Haul Truck Training program.
But all the speeches shared one thing in common—they all expressed a sense of teamwork among the classmates.
Horton said they all helped each other without being asked over the course of the program.
“We went in thinking it was a competition but by the second week, there was none of that at all,” he stressed.
“We worked together hand-in-hand. If someone missed something, the rest of the class caught them up.
“I am very grateful for the people I took this course with,” Horton added.
“We all came from diverse backgrounds but we all had the same goal in mind.”
“We’ve become a team, colleagues, and most of all, friends,” echoed Johnson, noting that being able to work together is something that’s really needed when you’re a mill process operator.
“I’m honoured to be a part of this group,” he added. “We all had different learning styles . . . but knowing that will help me help you when we get into the workplace.
“I know we can make a good career out of this and I know we can be great assets to the team at New Gold, as we have been assets to each other in the classroom,” Johnson said.
Councillor noted since everyone got along, it made it easy to go through the program.
“For me, it was a little overwhelming at first because you have to learn on the spot,” he admitted.
“But one of my strengths is being adaptable and being open and willing to learn,” he noted.
“We’re still learning and we’re dispersed on our own crews now, but that’s part of it,” Councillor reasoned. “We can’t hold hands all the time.
“I want to wish them the best and thank everyone involved.”
Councillor stressed he’s really looking forward to the opportunity that lies ahead.
“I’m very grateful,” he added, vowing that he and his classmates will continue to learn and grow.
“Just have a good time and get home safely to our families who have supported us.”
“I’d like to thank my classmates—my new teammates,” Copenace said. “Without you, this challenging course would have been too difficult to achieve.
“But together, we reached our common goal and we’re here today.”
Emcee Grant Goddard, general manager of New Gold’s Rainy River project, said there were no guarantees of employment upon graduation from the two programs.
“They all knew that,” he remarked. “We, as New Gold, part of the training program offers us the opportunity to see them in action; to see how they work together.
“From integrity to teamwork, we could see that day-to-day,” he added, noting he could see the trainees growing and taking on the challenges.
“It’s exciting to see, while there were no guarantees, all 21 have graduated and all have [job] offers.”
Goddard said some of them even resigned employment to join the program—without any guarantee of employment at the end of it.
He added Seven Generations and New Gold were partners in both programs while the Northwest Community College delivered the Mill Operators trainee program.
Goddard noted it aligns with the way they want to do things as a company.
“But it is really about engaging all the different elements—community, family,” he stressed.
“All the valedictorians thanked their families and their peers. When you hear that, you think, ‘Wow, we got it.’
“We, as the community, we got it,” he reiterated. “It’s special stuff.”
And Goddard stressed there were 21 people who started out in the programs so they all graduated.
“We set out to grow our workforce, our team, which will grow to about 450 once we’re into full operations with the surface mine and mill, and then will grow to 600 with the underground,” he said, referring to why the company initiated the training programs here.
New Gold wanted to have as many of its workers from local communities across Rainy River District.
“To give people opportunities to take on something, learn about something, and be successful at something they never thought they could,” Goddard said.
“We’re looking for people who share our values and want to be part of what we’re doing here and give back to the community.
“So when you start with that, what you end up with is an awesome group of people, provide the opportunity for learning that is not just New Gold, it’s reaching out to all of our community partners, like Seven Generations and Northwest Community College,” he noted.
“When you do that, you really position those trainees for success.
“But graduation and the success of the programs comes down to the people—their commitment, their desire to learn, their desire to take on the challenges,” Goddard stressed.
“Graduation is more than just achieving the technical elements, it’s achieving growth as a person, I think.
“It came together as part of our focus on recruiting locally to build our workforce,” he noted. “It came together because we are focused on providing opportunities for people to grow.”
Goddard said they also worked with communities to find people—the kind of people who want to be part of the family they’re growing.
“So when you put all of those ingredients together, providing you keep on track and focus on it, and always have the end in mind, you’re going to be successful.”
Mine manager Ryan Hoel congratulated the graduates of the Haul Truck Training program while Dave Hall, mill manager/commissioning manager, and Don Emms congratulated the Mill Operator trainees.
“We’re very excited to have you joining our family,” Hoel enthused.
“You’ve come to this point,” he noted. “A door has been opened, you’ve walked through that door and have been successful.
“And now I want to continue to encourage you,” Hoel added. “Encourage to continue to grow in our family, continue to follow your dreams and passions with your careers.
“This is just the start,” he noted, adding they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished,
“I congratulate the families for being involved and making this a successful program,” echoed Hall.
“We’ve got 13 eager new trainees, that’s great to see in the mill.”
Hall noted every day working in the mill will be different.
“Every day is a challenge,” he remarked. “I think that is something you are going to see.
“It’s not doing the same repetitive stuff.
“Something different happens every day and you have to think about it. You have to react to it,” Hall explained.
“And what you have is a team—a team to help you at any time.”
Hall noted they will have some more training to do over the next few months.
“It’s going to be a lot to take in, but we’re looking forward to working with each and everyone of you,” he said.
The mill processing plant at the mine is expected to be commissioned in mid-2017.