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Placer aims to fill skills gap with mining school (10/04)

BY JOSEPH QUESNEL Gold-mining giant Placer Dome has completed a pilot project to convert a stope into a mining schoolhouse at its Campbell Mine site and the company is now ready to expand the program.


Gold-mining giant Placer Dome has completed a pilot project to convert a stope into a mining schoolhouse at its Campbell Mine site and the company is now ready to expand the program.

The initiative started when the company refused to sit back and let a mining boom in Northern Ontario go to waste because of a shortage of new skilled miners. So they created their own mining school.

“We’re in the middle of the third Gold Rush,” says Brian Larson, the community liaison officer for Placer Dome.

The Vancouver-based company started the pilot project for the mining school in July and it is looking to expand the number of students it can admit for the future.

The school provides a fully comprehensive Ontario common-core training course, all out of a stope in the mine that is still being mined, that combines practical experience with classroom learning. With the support of government partners, the program is targeted at Aboriginal youth from the Far North, but any northerner is free to apply. Out of a current class of five students, two are Aboriginal and three are not.

One of the best aspects of the program, says Larson, is that the company pays the students an hourly rate to take the course, although

accommodation and living expenses are not paid for. There is no formal requirement for the students to take up work with a Placer Dome mine after completing the course. Larson however does not rule out that this may become a possible requirement in the future.

“Hopefully, some of these students stay with us, but they may just as well be lost to GoldCorp down the way. It’s all about opportunity,” he says.

The course runs from six to eight weeks and, currently, Placer Dome can accommodate about 10 classes of five students each. The program costs just under $1 million to operate, including the cost of salaries, equipment and supplies, and students receive hands-on instruction in safety practices,

drilling, blasting and equipment maintenance, as well as everything in between. Students can also take “specialty modules” that emphasize specific skills, such as milling and hoisting. The idea, says Placer Dome, is to allow the young people to take on jobs in certain areas of the industry as they become available.

The idea came to Placer Dome when they noticed an upward trend on gold prices due to a boom in mining development, and at the same time they noticed that the average age of miners in their company remained at around 45.

Youth were simply not interested in pursuing careers in mining in general and Placer Dome started to seriously address the issue.

Larson says youth from the area are typically drawn to “high-tech” jobs in southern Ontario and feel the lure of the cities when they attend university or college. Engineering firms and other employers are able to snatch up skilled northerners right in school, he says.

Larson, however, is convinced that the problem is that younger northerners are not being exposed to the full message about opportunities in the industry.

With salaries averaging between $60,000 and $100,000, Larson is not sure youth are getting the message that mining has changed over the years.

“The mining industry has not been doing a good job in promoting itself,” Larson says.

“Many of these young people come from second- and third-generation mining families and they simply don’t want to follow in their fathers’ footsteps,” he adds.

A major part of the work, says Larson, has been travelling to different northern communities, particularly Aboriginal ones in the Far North, and introducing mining to the youth.

In order to expand interest in the program, young people must be reached so they can realize the realities and opportunities in the mining industry before they embark elsewhere and they are lost to the mining world, he maintains.

In the interim, Larson says he is looking through a “stack of resumes” and he says Placer Dome is prepared to seek more government support in promoting the project.