Natasha Nagyougalik began work at Meadowbank in 2010 as a young mother to a three-year old son. Now Aidan is 11 and mom has climbed the Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. career ladder to a top rung.
She works as a dispatcher, but has also learned to operate the $2-million RH120 shovel, one of the largest and most sophisticated pieces of equipment in the global mining industry.
“In high school, I started off working at the local Northern store,” Nagyougalik said.
Then she saw job openings advertised by Agnico as either a dishwasher or housekeeper. She went for dishwasher. Five months later, she saw a posting for a month of heavy equipment training in Morrisburg, Ont. That was before Agnico brought simulator training to the mine site.
“My best friend was working at the mine as well and she was convincing me. We went together for that course. I came back to Meadowbank as a haul truck driver,” she said.
Working two weeks in and two weeks out was hard at first.
“It was difficult. I had my son waiting at home for me. But I had to also provide for my siblings, all my family, pretty much. I talked with my mum. She would take care of my son when I’d go work. At that time, there were no jobs in town. So that was our best option,” she recalled.
“At the beginning, he wanted to be with my mum because my mum spoiled the heck out of him. He was so excited for me to leave. Now, it’s completely opposite. I thought the older he would grow, it would be easier, but it’s harder for both of us.”
Nevertheless, when Nagyougalik talks about work, there determination and pride in her voice.
She’s not the only one who is proud. Agnico’s senior vice-president of environment, sustainable development and people Louise Grondin spoke of Nagyougalik as a role model with great pride at the Nunavut Mining Symposium’s panel on gender diversity in mining.
From the haul truck, Nagyougalik moved on through the dozer, the loader, excavator, grader, wheel dozer, and then the RH120 shovel. The machine is gigantic.
“It’s alright in the cab. I’m just used to operating machinery. I find it normal … ish.”
She’s reached the top of that career ladder.
Nagyougalik also does dispatch – but don’t be deceived by that innocent little word. Working on a Wenco database system, she monitors all the heavy machinery.
“There’s a map of the whole pit and roads. I can see where all the trucks are,” she said, adding it can sometimes be high pressure.
The system tracks all the heavy equipment to ensure the mine is producing ore at the desired tonnage level, trucks and equipment are fueled, and trucks are present where shovels require them.
“I have to also watch the crusher,” she said.
All this ensures Meadowbank produces the gold it said it would within a given 12-hour period.
What’s next for Nagyougalik?
“I’m going to try and work so hard and my goal is to become one of the top five Inuit in management for Agnico. That a big thing to say but … I’ll try,” she said.
It’s long been Agnico’s goal to have its Nunavut mines managed entirely by Inuit.
“Our big push now is to move more of our Inuit workers into the managerial part of the operation,” said director of corporate communications and public affairs Dale Coffin.
“We’ve been there 10 years and we’re seeing a more experienced work force than the early days. Those coming in at the entry level, now they’re the experienced workers and they’re assuming the positions now that we had to rely on a southern work force for. It’s very satisfying. In the department Natasha is a part of we haven’t hired from the south since 2012.”
Five years ago, Nagyougalik told co-workers she would one day drive the RH120 shovel – and here she is. There’s every reason to trust she’ll reach her next goal.
She’s found the company supportive.
“Big time. They’re like my family. I love how their system is.”
Already, she is a role model.
“Every time a new group comes in for work readiness or site readiness, where they do a pit tour, some of the trainers mention me. Those new people say, ‘I want to be like you. I’m so proud of you.’ Mainly, the girls,” she said.