Cover

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

October 28 2002
Cover

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

October 28 2002

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

Cover

At first, Elke Heinemann wasn’t so sure she wanted a job with BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc., which operates the Ekati mine—Canada’s only diamond producerin the Northwest Territories. At 200 km south of the Arctic circle and 300 km north of her home in Yellowknife, location was a factor. The work shift—two weeks of 12-hour days followed by two weeks at home—was daunting, as was the prospect of camp life. Employees, flown in by the company from communities across the North, live in residences on site. But the work, teaching literacy and numeracy to mine workers, was appealing, and she accepted a position in February last year. Today, one of two adult-ed teachers, Heinemann, 36, is proud of the work she does and she’s sold on BHP.

“The company takes care of us and supports us in our own development as an employee,” says Heinemann, who is taking computer and special education courses—on BHP’s tab. The adult-ed classes, offered during work hours, are voluntary. Many students say they now read to their children at home or help them with homework. “The company recognizes that if our workers encourage their kids to stay in school and learn to read, we will have a workforce in the future that has the skills required to compete,” Heinemann says. “That’s very progressive.”

BHP’s commitment to the North is one of the reasons it’s on the Top 100 list. As well as hiring locally, it strives to buy as much as possible in the North—$328 million worth last year, says Denise Burlingame, a BHP Billiton spokeswoman. At the mine site, the facilities are top-notch: private rooms, extensive sports facilities and a free, 24-hour, all-you-can-eat dining room. The company offers another, unique-in-Canada perk: an employee diamond purchase plan that offers cut rocks at cut-rate prices. About a third of employees have opted into the plan, Burlingame among them. She bought a one-carat—as large as a “good-sized pea”— with a clarity rating of WS1, or next to flawless. “It’s ooh-ahh,” she says, “without being so big that people think it’s a fake. I’m pretty tickled.”

Company profiles by Brian Bergman, John DeMont, John Infini, Katherine Macklem and Ken MacQueen