31st March 2008

Sudbury’s Cambrian College Closes Desperately Needed Geology Programs – John Filo

posted in Mining Education and Innovation |

I am a Mineral Exploration Geophysicist and very disappointed with Cambrian College’s decision to suspend the Geological Engineering Technology program.

The mining industry is booming. There will be a shortfall of 92,000 workers in Canada alone, during the next decade as industry expands and wages significantly increase. Australia, Chile, Brazil and all other mineral producing countries are also facing the same labour shortages as us.

Cambrian has had an ample number of years to pursue an aggressive Geology marketing program when it felt it had to suspend the Geological Engineering Technician Program a few years ago.

One need not be a rocket scientist to realize that these symptoms should have provided notice to senior management that the publicizing of a unique program in Ontario had been inadequate. Ironic also, was the College’s recent attempt to suspend the Advertising Program, because while the professors in that program understand the value of promoting corporate values and products and the associated lead and lag times, it follows that senior management of the College does not.

And three of the four reasons cited for the suspension were actually reasons why the program should have been expanded and marketed professionally. The reasons were:

• Employment opportunities for graduates, a demonstrated shortage of geological personnel world wide exists;

• Relevancy with respect to meeting changing business and industry needs, well-documented local expansion of mining activity and a multinational mineral exploration company is moving and building its world corporate headquarters on Old Falconbridge Road;

• Provision of an educated and skilled labour force for economic development, it is a virtual ceratainty that if Cambrian is unwilling or unable to meet this condition, some other college will.

Is it because some of the leadership of the College is more attuned to Southern Ontario demographics? Where population densities are so high, almost every program needs no promotion? The program in the past has locally only appealed to minority. Students forming the majority have come from Ottawa, Toronto, Meaford, Hepworth, Perth and other Southern Ontario localities and that is why promotion should be province-wide.

The Machiavellian way in which the decision was implemented guaranteed its suspension. Senior management manipulated the Board of Governors with tactics that even politicians would envy. Ignoring the input of students, faculty and local industry reflected a “Don’t confuse me with facts, I have my mind made up” syndrome. A pro forma conveyance of the information to the advisory committee occurred only hours before the decision was to be made. A meeting of malleable governors was held before the actual Board meeting, excluding the internal governors, so much for openness and transparency.

The Board representatives from Xstrata and Vale INCO were not present at the meeting.

It’s too bad that Cambrian College rejected creativity but elected to not capitalize on the superb advantage that it possessed by playing the numbers game and cutting the program. Students of corporate culture are acquainted with Chainsaw Al Dunlap who crippled the Sunbeam-Oster Corporation by cut, cut, cutting. The instantaneous results were spectacular, but the long term effects were disastrous. The object lesson is you do not grow a company by cutting.

Well into this century, when the trendy, faddish programs that the College offers and promotes have been implemented offshore in developing countries, the Sudbury Basin will still be one of the world’s premium geological laboratories, attracting the best geological minds and providing the best hands-on geological experiences.

The current President boasts of helping other countries set up geology training courses while cutting her own highly regarded programs.

During the next five years, Brazilian-based Vale is spending $59 billion on expansion and creating 62,000 jobs in Brazil and around the world. The company is building technical schools in Brazil and is in desperate need of geologists and mining engineers.

Cambrian should be expanding its geology programs and training people from around the world. The college should establish a training agreement with Vale head office in Rio and start teaching the next generation of Brazilian geology technicians.

The hardrock mining expertise in the Sudbury Basin has few equals in the world. Combine this with the high standards of the Canadian educational system and Sudbury could easily become a global training centre for mining expertise.

But that would take some vision and that is sadly lacking at Cambrian College.

John Filo, BASc, MA, PEng., taught mineral exploration geophysics at Cambrian College for 30 years, consulting during vacation periods. During a one year leave of absence, he worked for the Saudi Arabian Government where he developed training programs for Saudi geophysicists. He had also worked at Inco for six years in airborne and ground geophysics and property examinations, including stints in South Africa, Botswana and Europe.

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