By Ian Ross
A lack of students interested in mining careers has prompted educators at the Haileybury School of Mines to revamp their mining technician program for next year to a broader-based curriculum.
The "world-renowned" mining school, a division of Northern College, needs a minimum of 20 new students in its mining engineering technicians program for the coming fall semester, or first-year classes will be suspended.
In early June, only nine students were enrolled for fall courses, with six likely to attend and a half dozen more still weighing their options at other schools. The program has room for more than 80 students.
Though the college's southern regional director Peter Blakey expects the usual last-minute rush prior to the Aug. 15 sign-up deadline, he explains Haileybury's struggles are no different than any other mining institutes across North America.
"It's been a trend coming on for quite a few years," Blakey says. "We had a peak in the middle 1990s which might have been the excitement over Voisey's Bay, but it's been steadily dropping off over 10 years."
The "challenging" two-year program, with a drop-out rate of 65 per cent, offers basic mining courses in surveying, mineralogy, mathematics, computer applications, drafting and AutoCAD. Some students add a third-year technology course prior to attending engineering school, but the bulk of Haileybury's graduates leave after two years in response to industry demand and go straight into mining or mining-related fields.
Despite the mining school's 100 per cent job placement rate, Blakey says the veterinary technician program - with 400 applicants vying for 40 seats - has been gaining more interest than the mining program.
"Last year there was something like 60 applicants in mining programs between Laurentian (University), Cambrian (College) and (Haileybury) and any one of us could have handled that whole intake."
Though the number of operational mines in northeastern Ontario has shrunk, mining companies are losing technical expertise through retirement, he says.
But the college, which has more than 2,000 mining graduates working all over the world, isn't standing still; faculty are encouraged to put a new face on the program.
Beginning in September 2002, the college is launching a combined mining and aggregate program on a trial basis, making the course stronger in the areas of active technologies. Faculty are now putting together the course curriculum.
Blakey says the mining industry has tended to ignore the aggregate industry as "sunshine miners," however many Haileybury graduates do work in the sand, gravel and limestone business.
Blakey attributes student decline in part to the stereotypical image of mining being linked to labour disruptions, back-breaking work and an industry that destroys the environment instead of the high-tech industry it has evolved into. Among the many young people he meets at mining and job fairs, most favour joining the out-migration to southern Ontario rather than working in remote locations.
Even Haileybury's once strong pool of international students has dried up, because a number of Third World countries have set up their own mining programs with assistance from the school in Haileybury.
Blakey says the industry as a whole must better promote the technological changes and challenges of the work.
"We've been here for a long time and we intend to be around for a long time yet, albeit with a different look," says
Blakey. "It's a new model and we're revamping (the program).