Aboriginal community partners help northern Ontario sawmill hire and train locally

Penny Ratushniak, Workplace Safety North
January 23, 2018
By Penny Ratushniak, Workplace Safety North
Penny Ratushniak is a Health and Safety Specialist at Workplace Safety North.
Penny Ratushniak is a Health and Safety Specialist at Workplace Safety North. Photo courtesy Workplace Safety North
Jan. 23, 2018 - In early 2016, northern Ontario business Kenora Forest Products (KFP) re-started the local sawmill, and by year end, had added a second shift in the planer and sawmill to meet production capacity. Much of their staffing success is due to an innovative community partnership with local Aboriginal organizations and provincial health and safety association Workplace Safety North (WSN). 

As part of the mill restart negotiations, the Kenora, business made a commitment to hire Aboriginal workers and surpassed its original target of a 30 per cent Aboriginal workforce to more than 50 per cent. According to the Kenora Daily Miner and News, there are approximately 110 unionized and non-unionized positions at the mill, with additional indirect jobs created in woodlands operations.

Reaching out to community partners
At the early stages of hiring, KFP managers realized they had many positions to fill and understood that many of the new workers would have little to no sawmill experience. They were also committed to ensure local Aboriginal people shared in the economic benefits of the reopening. 

A decision was made to work with community partners to help ensure their workforce had proper pre-employment training to prepare workers for sawmill positions. Community partners included Seven Generations Education Institute, Ozhibii’igewigamig Employment and Training Centre, Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong, Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, and WSN.  

Ozhibii’igewigamig Employment and Training Centre recruits workers
Based out of Kenora, the Ozhibii’igewigamig Employment and Training Centre (a partnership between Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong and Ne-Chee Friendship Centre) was skillfully involved in the planning phase and recruitment. The organization works to create new partnerships with industry to help build strong community workforces. They worked with KFP managers to understand the employee skillsets needed.

From there, the organization recruited individuals, coached and prepared the candidates for job readiness by working on resume writing, interview skills, job expectations and the required personal safety equipment for selected training candidates. Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong and Ne-Chee Friendship Centre also helped by providing some funding for the pre-employment training as well as travel assistance where required.

WSN assesses needs and provides health and safety training courses
Workplace Safety North and KFP managers worked together to select appropriate health and safety training courses to prepare workers for the sawmill environment. The courses included Occupational Health and Safety training, Lockout Awareness, Safe Use of Machinery, Ergonomics, and Violence and Harassment Prevention. Additionally, the new provincial standard for Working at Heights Safety Training was provided for all trainees.  

Seven Generations Education Institute organizes training logistics
Seven Generations Education Institute was involved in organizing the logistics around training dates, classroom locations, and lunches prepared by their culinary students. They also provided training on cultural awareness and communication expectations in the workplace. The awareness workshop helps people better understand the local Anishinaabe culture. Getting to know and understand people’s different cultures helps build a workforce that works together as a team. 

This local employer was extremely successful by “thinking outside the box” versus traditional “do-it-yourself,” and by collaborating with a variety of community partners. A leader in working with community partners, KFP is a subsidiary of Manitoba-based Prendiville Industries, a resource-based company that manufactures a wide range of wood products for the building, mining and construction industries.

For more information, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Based in Dryden, Ont., Penny Ratushniak is a health and safety specialist at Workplace Safety North. Penny is a registered professional forester with over 20 years of forestry experience. She has a forestry degree from Lakehead University and a Bachelor of Education from Queens University, and Seven Generations Aboriginal learning. 

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