Canadian Mining Journal


Labour solutions

In this boom period for our industry, the University of British Columbia's mining department has a record number of students enrolled in mining and mineral processing engineering, and they are all act...

In this boom period for our industry, the University of British Columbia’s mining department has a record number of students enrolled in mining and mineral processing engineering, and they are all actively seeking work experience. The problem is that second year mining students have very little if any practical mining knowledge, and likewise, have very little to offer a mining company.

On the industry side, mines worldwide are having a difficult time recruiting experienced mining and mineral processing engineers.

Teck Cominco Ltd.’s Highland Valley Copper operation seems to have found an innovative solution to both problems: it hires mining students as summer labourers. Labour positions do not require much experience and, more importantly, they serve to expose the dozen or so hired students to the entire mining operation, making them potential qualified hires several years down the road.

Young engineers studying at UBC are often very intimidated by an engineering position when they have no prior technical experience. A labour position acts as a transition into a true mining engineering position. It allows students to view the operation and gain work experience without being required to do much technical work. When the students go to their next work term, they have a higher level of confidence because they are more aware of what is going in the operation and what is expected of them.

These future mining engineers come to work highly motivated every day, and are eager to carry out the many challenging tasks set before them. The labour students of Highland Valley Copper are exposed to many different aspects of the mining operation that they could not learn from a textbook. Students work everywhere from the in-pit crushers, along conveyor systems, inside the mill, in mine maintenance and mine operations and the warehouse. They see a complete operation from drilling and blasting to shipping concentrates. It is no longer a series of squares and lines on a flow sheet.

One of the most valuable learning resources for students in the mine is the first-hand knowledge and experience of the full-time mine employees. Students are encouraged to ask questions about any aspect of the mining process at Highland Valley, and the full-time employees are always happy to answer. As members of the United Steelworkers Union, labour students experience the relationship between staff and union members at this 850-person operation. Highland Valley is also generous enough to allot an entire week towards ‘job shadowing’. During this time, the summer students are circulated around the offices of mill maintenance, mill metallurgy, mine operations and mine engineering. Interacting with foremen, engineers and shift workers, they do everything from ride in a haul truck to calculate a mass balance.

The understanding obtained by the second year UBC mining engineering students working as labourers at Highland Valley Copper could never be taught in a classroom. Their new experience can make them effective employees in an engineering position in the future. Appropriately enough, the first students who started with the program in 2001 will be graduating this year and are starting to look for full-time work. Incidentally, as metal prices have risen, so have tonnes per day, and wouldn’t you know it, Highland Valley Copper is hiring young engineers with experience.

The paycheques don’t hurt either.

Mike Kozak ( and Grant Carlson ( are students in the Mining Engineering department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. (

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