Australian Potash signed an agreement with the Wirrpanda Foundation in a bid to recruit as many locals as possible for the explorer’s Lake Wells project, 160km north-east of Laverton.

The aspiring sulphate of potash producer in August released a definitive feasibility study outlining a project capable of producing 150,000 tonnes a year of potash over an initial 30-year mine life.

Construction is expected to start in about six months, with the explorer targeting production from mid-2022.

In the meantime, Australian Potash Managing Director Matt Shackleton said the explorer was looking to recruit as much of a local workforce as possible for civil works leading up to commissioning of the plant, and ongoing operations afterwards.

“We don’t know a great deal about getting an indigenous workforce work-ready and we might find Laverton is rich with people who are work-ready,” he said.

“We don’t think that’s the case but the people best placed to assess that are the Wirrpanda Foundation.”

Launched in 2005 by former West Coast Eagles player David Wirrpanda, the Wirrpanda Foundation aims to lead the provision of education and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The foundation is also the Community Development Program provider in Laverton and Mr Wirrpanda said the organisation’s aim was to identify and prepare CDP participants who could take up roles as the Lake Wells project developed.

“For us to be able to contribute to Laverton and the Goldfields in particular to create those job networks is very important to us,” he said.

“It gives us an opportunity to use that as more of a motivation to say you don’t really have to leave your home town to have an opportunity in the workplace.”

Mr Shackleton said the plant would employ between 50 and 60 full-time equivalent people.

“Our plan is to base as many of those people as we can in Laverton itself,” he said.

“Best-case scenario for us is in five years time, we’ve got maybe 25 or 30 people employed by APC living in Laverton itself.

“On the assumption that Wirrpanda Foundation and APC are successful, we could have arguably 20-25 indigenous people in that workforce.”

Mr Shackleton said Australian Potash was in discussions with a third party about pre-employment programs and training.

“There are some rudimentary skills that need to be learnt prior to employment and the conversation has commenced around that and we are getting some good feedback from the local indigenous community around that,” he said.

“This mine will be out there for in excess of 30 years and people often pay a bit of lip-service to supporting the local communities but that is a pretty real thing for us because we are going to need a lot from Laverton over the next two or three decades.

“It only makes sense for us to start working out how we can do a little bit for the town in return.”

The agreement was welcomed by Shire of Laverton chief executive Peter Naylor, who said it provided an opportunity for younger people.

“They can go to school and they can try hard, but they get left behind a bit after those school hours and the Shire has got a pretty strong youth council that will work with them to try and help them get to that next goal,” he said.

“I think this is something that is going to be very strong and help them into that capacity where they will be able to understand and appreciate a path going forward to build a future and build some momentum in their lives.”

Image: Australian Potash Managing Director Matt Shackleton, The West Australian.