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Collaborate to educate – 100-year-old Ontario-based mining course expands

Northern College, situated in the far north-eastern part of Northern Ontario, a province in Canada known for its mining and home to a De Beers diamond mine, has been teaching students about the age-old business of mining through its Haileybury School of Mines programme for more than a century.

In preparation for an increased demand of skilled workers in the industry, both locally and otherwise, Northern College has signed an agreement with nearby Confederation College to share its renowned mining programme, which incorporates both on campus and remote learning. Together, the colleges hope to add to the skills pool of an industry that is currently full of baby boomers looking towards retirement.

Director of Trades and Technology at Northern College, Tori Hanson, explains the importance of this collaborative teaching model between these two universities, which together cover the geographical area of France, and how the Haileybury School of Mines has evolved to service the changing needs of the mining industry, as well as provide new skills for native aboriginal students living in remote locations.

Heidi Vella: Haileybury School of Mines programme celebrated its 100th birthday a few years ago, what about this particular programme has given it so much longevity?

Tori Hanson: Our mining programme is very special. You can be in some remote part of the Arctic or in South Africa or Jamaica – and we have students in both those places – and you can take the Mining, Engineering and Technician programme in your own time at those locations.

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It’s totally asynchronous, it’s totally available by distance and we do use quite a substantial learning platform called Blackboard. This year we moved to a Blackboard collaborate model, so there is a video opportunity for those who wish to join in scheduled video classes and they are recorded for those who are not able to join them.

So, if you are in the UK taking our programme and you are not able to make it for the 3 o’clock afternoon class because you are in bed sleeping, you can view the recorded lecture the next day.

HV: Who takes this course and what’s their typical age?

"Together, the colleges hope to add to the skills pool of an industry that is currently full of baby boomers looking towards retirement."

TH: We have students in most of the major mining companies who are taking our programme, wherever in the world. It’s an opportunity for them to get a diploma programme, it is very relevant to what they are doing and gives them a chance to, in many cases, move up and be promoted for the jobs they are currently doing.

It’s also for students who are not necessarily attuned or perhaps not likely to be entirely successful in an independent learning environment. For example, students right out of high school with a diploma, typically a younger student.

We offer the programme onsite at Haileybury and we offer it at our Timmins campus, where the students are integrated with other students in courses like communications and maths and their general studies courses.

Then they are with their group, their fellow mining students at their campus, when they are part of the vocational based courses that are delivered by distance. Our partnership with Confederation is a version of this blended model.

HV: How does this collaborative programme work?

TH: Ourselves and Confederation College are almost mirror images of each other. Because we tend to have smaller numbers of students and so forth, creating partnerships makes a lot of sense, instead of trying to deliver every programme each independently. There are other partnerships between other colleges; this is a trend in the province of Ontario.

The Mining and Engineering Technician programme is offered in full asynchronous distance delivery. Our partnership with Confederation is a version of that blended model. Confederation College has had, for a few years, a one year mining and engineering technique programme that covers pretty much our first year of mining.

So it is a block transfer programme, meaning any successful graduate from the Confederation Mining Technique programme is automatically accepted in to the second year of our Mining, Engineering and Technician programme, but they become Northern College students studying at Confederation College.

HV: Does Northern College have plans to partner with any other college?

TH: Oh the potential is there! This partnership [with Confederation College] was actually signed and sealed earlier in the summer. We have a partnership with a college in northern Saskatchewan called Northlands College. La Ronge has gold mines and uranium mines, it is a small place in the far north serving an aboriginal population but with a lot of mining activity around them.

"We have students in most of the major mining companies who are taking our programme, wherever in the world."

That partnership is going to be different, they are actually using our curriculum under our guidance. So their programme, for example, when we do quality reviews will be reviewed along with our own. The Presidents will be signing that agreement in mid-November.

We are working with Queens University, which is another venerable institution in the province of Ontario, on a degree programme that would take our engineering technicians to some form of mining type degree with Queens University. Again we are looking at a blended and distance type model for that.

HV: What kind of skills can students expect to achieve with the Mining, Engineering and Technician programme?

TH: Our programme is general but commonly students will leave our programme and go to work as surveyors. So they will be working in technical, as planners, production supervisors, assayers, process operators – the list is pretty long. They might be working in exploration or as mine geological technicians; we have a substantial geological stream in our programme. They might be government mine inspectors, ground control technicians, ventilation technicians, ground control technicians, environmental technicians. Some of our graduates go and work in sales with mining suppliers and so forth.

HV: What is the demand for this type of course in the province and internationally?

TH: It has been quite high in the past few years. Things are dropping quite a bit right now, that’s very well known. But for example, with the ring of fire, which is the mining activity that is likely to happen in north-western Ontario, in Federation College territory, there is a huge amount of opportunity coming in the next four to five years for these jobs. Certainly with different populations inhabiting these areas, we want to ensure they are served and those folks have a chance at the good jobs in the mining industry.

HV: What is the skills availability currently like in the province?

TH: There is a worry there is a skills shortage and it’s probably still just a little bit hidden by the fact a lot of people from my generation, the baby boomers, have chosen to stay working longer.

But the retirements are coming faster and faster, so as these people start retiring in droves I think there is a very strong concern in part from people in the mining sectors, and many sectors actually – the electrical sectors and all skilled trade sectors – that there will be, within a few years, a substantial shortage because of this demographic shift that is going on.

HV: Locally do you see a family tradition of mining, with students coming into the sector whose parents also worked in it?

"Our programme is general but commonly students will leave our programme and go to work as surveyors."

TH: There is a lot of that. Not so much in the aboriginal community; I think that is just kind of getting underway as more and more remote mining camps open up. What you do find is, whether someone is actually a mining technician, engineer or geologist, in other words very directly related to the mining field, many other jobs in ours and Confederation College’s region are in fact mining.

So for example, we have trade programmes and a large electrical programme; a lot of our graduates in those programmes go to work in the mining industry as well. Our college serves the mining industry very directly, but also indirectly and our communities are really heavily based in the mining sector.

HV: Is there a big demand for the mining course from the aboriginal community?

TH: Absolutely. Confederation College’s programme, I believe, has targeted the aboriginal community. Our own programme is targeting aboriginal communities in the region and in fact in our apprenticeship community and corporate training department there is a great activity in aboriginal communities, different kinds of programmes running all the time.

HV: How involved are mining companies in the programme?

TH: They certainly hire our graduates! In fact, they often hire students in the programme before they graduate. We have a mining governing council, which is a programme advisory committee, and we meet generally about three times a year and we review our curriculum with them, we hear their take on what’s happening in the mining industry and any adjustments we may need to make to our programme or delivery of that programme, so it can be curriculum based suggestions or support service to students. So that’s what keeps our curriculum always up to date and fresh.

HV: Are job prospects good for those looking to get in the mining industry?

TH: There is a lot of opportunity in the mining field particularly for those people who are willing to travel. There are operations in a lot of locations; here in Timmins we have a mine sitting right in the middle of town.

Certainly for those who are willing to travel and move around a bit there are huge opportunities in the mining industry. We have a very high rate of employment among our graduates. If they want to be working in mining they are working in mining.

Photo courtesy of De Beers Mining

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