As a child growing up in China, Ce Shi loved to look at rocks.
His geological curiosity led to the study of natural sciences at the University of British Columbia, which gave way to an interest in mineral exploration. This spring, Shi was one of 26 students selected to travel to Northern Ontario to participate in a hands-on workshop that aims to guide students into the industry.
“I live in BC, but I had heard of Sudbury and the Ring of Fire,” Shi said. “Ontario is a hotspot for investment from China, so I was curious to see Sudbury firsthand.”
Initiated in 2007 by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), the Student-Industry Mineral Exploration Workshop (S-IMEW) is PDAC’s response to an impending shortage of workers in the industry. It annually draws together the brightest young minds in Canada for a two-week, all-expenses-paid trip to a mining mecca.
“The event is designed to attract students to the mineral exploration industry and to give them a practical and business perspective of mineral exploration not generally available in the classroom,” Scott Jobin-Bevans, co-founder of the workshop and a PDAC past president, said of the program.
“This country is a world leader in mineral exploration,” he added. “If we are to retain this predominant position, we must do everything we can to encourage highly qualified young people to enter the industry. The students attending this workshop are our future leaders.”
During the first week, students attended a workshop in Sudbury at Collège Boréal where they participated in lectures, presentations and hands-on sessions that touched on exploration and mapping techniques, mineral deposits, geophysics, geochemistry, regulatory requirements, health and safety, and corporate responsibility.
They then travelled to the Abitibi Greenstone Belt for a tour and overview of Val d’Or geology and the Noranda camp in Québec.
Common amongst participants is a love for the outdoors and a natural inquisitiveness about rocks and minerals.
For Jon Berthiaume, who hails from Regina, Sask., the undulating hills of Northern Ontario stand in stark contrast to the flat plains of his home province where oil and gas are king.
“There isn’t as much of an emphasis placed on mineral exploration, or the mineral industry in general,” he said. “So it’s been really interesting to segue into this side of the industry and learn more about how it’s run.”
Berthiaume, who’s done field mapping and file assessment work with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, said the workshop opens the students up to new and different career possibilities by allowing them to network with industry professionals.
He’s now considering how he can apply the science gleaned through his formal education to real-world problems.
“I’m contemplating going into a geological engineering degree to learn more about how I can take the science I’ve learned—structures, the different types of rocks—and then apply those to infrastructure, either to further exploit the minerals through mining, or to help build a community,” he said.
Like his contemporaries, Tyler Ciufo of Mississauga, who’s currently in the third year of an undergraduate degree, has experience working in the industry. He spent two eight-month terms working at Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank Mine in the Baker Lake area of Nunavut drilling, logging, splitting and hauling core.
Hearing about the adventures of veteran geologists working in the field solidified his resolve to go into mineral exploration. He, too, wants to one day be able to share his own tales from around the world. That one-on-one interaction with experienced professionals is something students can’t get in the classroom, he said.
“What this really teaches you, in the practical side of the industry, is the stuff you need to know but aren’t taught in school,” said Ciufo, who’s considering exploration or prospecting and field mapping as future career choices.
“Even if you’re going to specialize mostly in straight geology, or straight geophysics, or straight geochemistry, you still have to understand the other parts of the geoscience as a whole.”
Shi agrees. Leading up to his current experience, he’s done lab work for the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and, in Canada, has done stewardship plan research and engineering plans for the Comox Valley Regional District.
Though the natural sciences are what originally piqued his interest, he foresees eventually moving into the financial arm of the industry. But he acknowledges that the possibilities are numerous.
“I know most undergrads don’t know what they can do after they graduate with a geology degree; their career paths may be narrowed because of the lack of information,” he said. “But now, by meeting those professionals, I know there are so many career paths you can transfer to in the future with your geology degree.”