Specialist High Skills Major in mining offered at three local schools
Most people have a skewed idea of what the mining industry involves, but one goal of the Specialist High Skills Major in mining is to dispel those myths, said Leo Leclair, the Rainbow District School Board’s lead for the program.
“It’s technology now,” Leclair said about the current reality for the mining sector. “It’s not pick and shovel, it’s not dark and dirty.”
Three Rainbow District high schools – Lockerby Composite School, Lively District Secondary School and Espanola High School – offer the Specialist High Skills Major program for mining.
The Ontario Ministry of Education started the Specialist High Skill Major program in 2006. At that time, 600 students across the province took courses in the program.
Today, more than 42,000 Grade 11 and 12 students in Ontario are enrolled in Specialist High Skill Majors that cover areas ranging from mining, to business, to mining, sports, manufacturing and hospitality.
For the mining program, each school has its own focus. Lockerby, for instance, has a high number of university-bound students, so the program prepares students who want to explore mine engineering.
Lively Secondary School, however, has integrated robotics into the program. Students will participate in robotics competitions throughout the year.
But Leclair said even in a mining town like Sudbury, people outside the program still have an outdated view of the mining industry. When he asked 12 students from a manufacturing class to say the first things that came to mind when they thought of mining, he heard words like “pick,” “shovel,” “black,” and “dirty.”
Even teachers, he said, may not always have a current impression of the industry. To educate the educators, the Rainbow Board hosted an information session on Nov. 7, with speakers from a range of industries – including the mining sector – to update teachers on where their sectors stand.
“I’m trying to get the teachers to understand that when I say mining, it’s not just mining anymore, it’s specializations,” said Dick DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association.
DeStefano addressed educators on the recent changes in the mining sector and the growing need for all metals as society is increasingly connected by technology.
“Our consumer products are very dependent on what we pull out of the ground,” DeStefano said. “People should be enthusiastic about mining and what it does for them.”
DeStefano said schools need to do a better job in preparing students for the ever-changing mining industry, but added the Specialist High Skills Major program is a good start.
“When you talk about mining with your kid, stop telling him he’s going to die underground,” DeStefano said. “Because it’s going to be a remote operation.”
Leclair said schools and the mining industry can learn to better collaborate with each other. He said local mining companies, for example, don’t let high school co-op students work underground for safety reasons, but they can instead allow students to work elsewhere, such as the accounting or information technology departments.
In its seven-year history, Leclair said the Specialist High Skills Major program has produced many success stories. One of his former students in the business program became a junior accountant with BESTECH. Leclair said she never had an interest in continuing her education after high school, but loved the program and is now working to become a certified general accountant.
“It’s amazing the motivation that it does,” Leclair said about the program.