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Jobs of the Future: Province seeking tech to make mining safer

Critical Industrial Technologies Initiative making funds available to develop tech, skilled talent

Tech innovators looking to make mining safer could be eligible for up to $1 million to develop their idea, with support available for talented and skilled workers to help bring it to fruition.

Under the Critical Industrial Technologies Initiative, a program of the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), the province is seeking out new, not-yet-commercialized technologies that can address operational and environmental hazards in mining.

The aim of this challenge, said Robert McMillan, OCI’s digital adoption advisor, is to identify and support scalable technologies that address safety as a sector-wide problem.

OCI will focus on projects using one or more critical technologies including 5G, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, robotics and quantum.

“So, we’re looking to not only support the development and commercialization of new technologies, but also drive the adoption of these technologies and develop talent to support this adoption,” McMillan said during a June 5 webinar outlining the challenge.

The parameters of the mining-specific challenge came about through discussions with stakeholders in the sector, he noted.

“We anticipate the adoption of technologies across sectors as well,” McMillan added. “So, for example, a company may be providing something like a tire monitoring system for agriculture, but also recognizes that there could be value in that in a mining opportunity as well. So we want to support the pivot of those technologies to new commercial opportunities.”

The challenge is open to consortiums that comprise at least one small or medium enterprise (companies with 500 or fewer employees), and they must have a primary, Ontario-based partner that can demonstrate a market need for the proposed technology.

Funding of up to $1 million is available, but it will be provided on a two-to-one cost-matching basis, McMillan noted.

Projects can last for up to one year, but by the end, applicants will need to demonstrate that the technology can be rolled out sector-wide.

“This program is really to support new ventures and endeavours, not those that have already been undertaken, or already planned,” McMillan said.

In addition to the sector-specific challenge, McMillan said there are funding programs in place to help businesses hire the skilled workers needed to advance their technologies.

The Talent Development Initiative provides the applicant with up to $10,000 — on a one-to-one cost-matching basis — to hire an intern for a four-month period to help with development.

To be eligible, interns need to have graduated within the last three years and have some expertise in one of the critical technologies. A programmer wouldn’t be eligible, for example, but someone with expertise in AI would.

“So that's a great opportunity for companies that are looking to bring in new talent,” McMillan said.

A second program, Future Ready, enables a company to upskill or reskill current employees.

If a company needs someone with some expertise in AI, for example, OCI could provide up to $10,000 to bring in someone to train an existing employee in that technology.

Companies looking to participate have until June 28 to submit an expression of interest, and the application deadline is July 12.

The mining sector challenge is the second to be issued as part of the OCI’s Sector Adoption Program.

The first was an agri-food challenge with a focus on using critical technologies to enhance the operational efficiency, increase productivity, and offset labour shortages within the agri-food sector. Expressions of interest for that challenge close on June 15.

McMillan said additional challenges for various sectors will be issued throughout the year.

Over three years, $50 million will be available through the Critical Technologies Initiative to drive the commercialization and adoption of critical technologies to advance Ontario's mining, advanced manufacturing, construction and agri-food sectors.