In the modern economy, companies will need to create healthy, inclusive work environments to attract and retain employees.
People need to feel valued and have a sense of belonging, says Tammy Van Lambalgen, vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel for Orano Canada Inc. She speaks from experience; Orano has an excellent track record engaging and retaining employees in Saskatchewan’s north, and has a representative workforce commitment. Van Lambalgen, who oversees corporate social responsibility, including northern affairs, asserts that a diverse workforce is important everywhere in the province. “Having different voices and perspectives at the table improves business performance,” says Van Lambalgen.
Uranium mining does exceptionally well at maintaining Indigenous employment. Both Orano and Cameco have consistently high Indigenous employment numbers. At Orano’s McClean Lake mine, 46 per cent of the employees are Indigenous. “It not only gives you a diverse voice at the table for decision making, but it also allows each employee to feel valued for their contributions.” says Van Lambalgen. “I want everyone that works at Orano to come here because their unique perspective and insight are valued by the company,”
Van Lambalgen believes a workplace that welcomes diversity (gender, background, race, sexual orientation) will be one that prospers and remains sustainable for years to come. Education and engagement within the Indigenous population will be a key for any business’ future success. “We need to be inclusive so we’re all working together for the success of Saskatchewan, so it’s a place where our children want to stay,” she says.
In a male-dominated industry (female employment is at around 26 per cent at Orano, and about 15 per cent in the overall Canadian mining industry), Van Lambalgen finds her co-workers are receptive to diversity and inclusiveness discussions. It’s important for these discussions to take place and that people aren’t threatened. “I feel really optimistic. Orano has been very inclusive from the get-go likely in part because of the requirement for the uranium mining industry to meet a higher standard for social license.”
Van Lambalgen says workplace readiness remains an issue in northern Saskatchewan, where the company uses a testing system in collaboration with high schools. Four years ago, Orano began sharing the generalized results with the communities so people could understand high school graduates’ weaknesses. “We’ve seen significant improvement just from giving them the awareness that there may be shortcomings,” she says. Some places, like Pinehouse Lake and English River First Nation, have accepted the responsibility as a community to find solutions. Schools there track attendance, making it a source of pride for students as stats are displayed and celebrated. Obtaining high marks in math and the sciences is encouraged as it expands future career options.
A significant majority of Orano’s Grade 12 entry-level positions are filled by Indigenous people. Improving Indigenous numbers in non-entry level positions will enhance inclusion and opportunities to attract employees in the future. Barriers restricting access to higher level jobs are largely rooted in education. “We need to start talking to the children early…a good portion will need more than Grade 12 to find employment. We are going to need trades, techs and professionals. And that’s how we’ll get a more inclusive workforce,” says Van Lambalgen.
Communities and families need to financially plan for children to leave the community for secondary education. Cultural supports also need to be in place. “We need to ensure that there’s a good support system in place for Indigenous students who leave their communities to come to Saskatoon or Regina for an education. And in 20 years, hopefully we’ll see the fruits of some of these discussions,” says Van Lambalgen.