Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North.
Before Nick Joyce arrived in Sudbury last month, the city’s famed mineral exploration history was just something he had learned about in the classroom. But a visit to the city brought the story to life.
“It is one of those classic case studies we do go over in our mineral exploration classes, but to actually come here and see the rocks and go to a discovery outcrop and then go to one of the mines, it’s something different,” said Joyce, who recently graduated from the geology program at the University of British Columbia and will be working towards his Master’s degree in mineral exploration at Queen’s University starting this fall.
“It brings it to a whole new level of understanding.”
Joyce is one of 26 students who participated in the 2013 Student-Industry Mineral Exploration Workshop (S-IMEW) hosted by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). Using Sudbury as a base of operations, this year’s workshop, held from May 4 to 17, guided students through tours of Sudbury, Timmins and Rouyn-Noranda, which were complemented by lectures given by industry representatives.
The program started in 2007 as a response to the impending shortage of workers in the industry. An estimated 100,000 mining-related jobs will need to be filled by 2020, and PDAC recognized that something had to be done to address that shortage.
“We saw a need for getting students up to speed in terms of their job readiness to go out in the field, and not just in terms of the traditional geology area of being an exploration geologist,” explained Ross Gallinger, PDAC’s executive director, “but to think about what their career would be in the sector moving forward as well, and to get them exposure to a variety of things that would be possibilities for them in the future.”
That the mining industry is still all about working underground with pickaxes and shovels remains a pervasive attitude, Gallinger said, and workshops like this one help to change that.
“Where students thought they were going to be a geochemist or geophysicist or geologist, now they’re thinking of where else they might fit into that whole ecosystem in the sector,” he said.
PDAC covers all expenses for the students, who go through a stringent application process to qualify to participate.
Joyce, who got hooked on mining exploration after a summer building drill pads and prospecting in the Yukon, described the experience as “rigorous, intense and tons of fun.” Presenters, who are typically senior management representatives in the industry, have given “some of the best lectures I’ve ever had,” said Joyce, who appreciates the investment industry has made in the program.
“For the students who are really interested in having a career in mineral exploration, this is the place you want to be, so it’s pretty darn competitive getting in,” he said. “It’s an absolutely unique opportunity to get a crash course in all the facets of the business, from the perspective of mineral exploration.”
Industry, too, is seeing the benefits of the seven-year-old program.
DGI Geoscience, a Toronto-based company that does in-situ borehole geophysics surveying, has been involved with the program for six years. Chris Drielsma, vice-president of operations, volunteered his time to lecture on geophysics on day seven of the workshop.
“As an industry representative what you get is an opportunity to speak to the bright and upcoming leaders of tomorrow, who are just about to enter the workforce, and be able to show them what options are out there, which is much broader than what they can learn in university in terms of the potential applications,” Drielsma said. “I can tell you that the participants are just top-notch.”
In past years, Drielsma has interacted with some of the students and even hired some out of the program.
He said a noted difference between students of today versus the students of his university years is an enhanced engagement and knowledge level. Most students have had summer work and they’re actively curious about the earth sciences. Questions asked following his lecture provide insight into their knowledge and experience, he said.
“It’s not just from a textbook,” Drielsma said. “They’re able to connect that university experience with that real-world experience.”
He believes the S-IMEW program is something that had been missing in the sector.
PDAC would like to eventually expand the program, bringing more students into the workshop. Gallinger said industry has been extremely supportive of the program, as well as the other PDAC educational initiatives.
The organization is working to educate more students about mining through its annual convention, and it’s in the early stages of developing Mining Matters, a teaching module for elementary school students designed to encourage them to consider careers in mining.