Headquartered in Montreal, consulting and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin is a giant in the industry with projects spanning the globe. But when it came time to establish a centre of excellence in underground mining, it zeroed in on Sudbury for its experience and expertise.
SNC set up shop in Sudbury’s downtown in June with a core of eight employees, but expects to hire up to 45 within the next year, and bring that number to 100 in two years’ time, said George Darling, the mine technical services director and office manager at SNC’s Sudbury office.
Renovations on the Durham Street building, which formerly housed an Eaton’s store, were completed at the end of December, and, as an homage to its former owner, SNC has kept the original elevator and staircase intact. The duct and cable work remains visible, giving the office an industrial feel, but the candy-coloured offices and unique layout lends it a more modern style.
Entering the mining sphere is a bit of a diversion for the firm, which has, before now, concentrated its efforts in engineering, procurement, construction and management (EPCM) on everything from smelters and dams to hospitals and surface infrastructure.
“We’ve done a lot of metallurgical plant work all over the world for a long time, but not really a lot of mining work, other than maybe environmental, geotechnical and a little bit of closure,” Darling said. “So there was a push a little over a year ago to get more involved in the classic mining type of work that goes on.”
SNC established its mining and metallurgy division, and the creation of four centres of excellence followed: Quebec City hosts the centre of excellence in open-pit mining, Montreal’s centre specializes in environmental and the Toronto centre concentrates on geotechnical. Sudbury’s office will be a centre of excellence in underground mining, with a focus on scoping, prefeasibility and feasibility studies, along with EPCM.
Initially, Darling said he expected the Sudbury office would be servicing local companies like Vale and Xstrata, but the firm has instead been aiding its offices in Peru and Chile with projects in South America.
“Those offices could never do underground mining work because they didn’t have the expertise,” Darling said. “Now there is (the expertise) in Sudbury.”
The firm is also doing work on Rubicon Minerals’ Red Lake project and has recently signed on with a large Vancouver financial firm, while bidding on projects in Africa and Brazil, at Codelco’s Andina Mine in Chile, and on work for Vale and Xstrata.
Senior mine engineer Roy Levesque believes the integrated approach to project planning management will appeal to clients because it provides a seamless process.
“If you can just get the study, and hand the keys over to people in the office next to you to do the rest of the project, I think clients will be amenable to that,” Levesque said. “They won’t have to worry about switching companies and all this handover and learning and re-engaging somebody else to do it. It’s just kind of a sequence from one phase to the next.”
A consultant for a decade, Levesque said he came on board with SNC for the challenge of building a new team from the ground up and the opportunity to gain international experience. Levesque said the majority of resumes are coming in from around the North.
The Sudbury office also has an environmental division, headed up by Shelley Wainio, who oversees SNC’s work on the Clean AER project at Vale and offers consulting services on contaminated sites. It’s a service that’s become more in demand as environmental controls become more stringent and clients look to protect their investments.
“Now I think people are really starting to recognize the value of it,” Wainio said. “We’re identifying any potential contamination on the property. You may not necessarily want to buy this property because if you take on that liability, it could be really expensive to clean up and it could be a really big hassle.”
SNC hasn’t been immune to the resource crunch, and will look to hire strategically to fill its office with a mix of junior engineers, mid-tier workers and senior engineers to balance out its ranks.
But with a trio of post-secondary schools in its backyard, Darling anticipates the Bharti School of Engineering at Laurentian University, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal to will be valuable feeder schools to SNC’s operations. Employees will also be able to tap into SNC’s vast network of talent with training and networking opportunities in Montreal.
All this adds up to great career opportunities for those who want to be based in Northern Ontario but look for opportunities to expand their reach.
“We’ve got all these mining engineers here working in the Sudbury environment, but also working overseas, so it’ll mean that this office will become very global in its approach to mining,” Darling said. “It’ll mean that young people from Cambrian or Collège Boréal or Laurentian University will be working on global projects here and not just the Sudbury basin.”