DOING SOME DIGGING – Encouraging mining students

The UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO's Mining Building turns 100 this year. U. of T. threw a party on April 23 to mark the eve...
The UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO's Mining Building turns 100 this year. U. of T. threw a party on April 23 to mark the event, inviting Canada's 100 top mining entrepreneurs to attend, and me. This is one of Canada's best-known, best-funded mining schools. Pierre Lassonde, who is now the president of NEWMONT MINING CORP. and chair of the World Gold Council, got the ball rolling with a generous endowment in 1995, part of over $20 million that has been raised in recent years from private and public funding for the department, which is now known as the Lassonde Institute.

In a welcoming speech, Eira Thomas, CEO of STORNOWAY DIAMOND CORP., introduced Lassonde as the "visionary behind the Lassonde Institute," but Lassonde dismissed that remark, describing himself as "the sucker who had the money."

One of the points of the celebration was to launch a campaign to raise another $20 million by 2010. This money would be used to add an enormous, glassed-in addition with a Louvre-type pyramid roof, some of which would be used as "smart, flexible space for students, faculty and industry in joint collaborative research projects," according to the department's brochure. The money would also be used to add high-tech testing and research equipment, including x-ray computed tomography scanning, a satellite remote sensing lab and a digital mine lab. Some of the money would go for graduate scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships and to fund visiting professors.

The goal is to take what is already Canada's largest mining school and bump it up to one of the top mining schools in the world, able to attract the best candidates, to give them a world-class education, and to carry on research that will maintain Canada's reputation of excellence in mining.

In his speech Lassonde made two main points. The first was that Canada has the second largest landmass of any country, and that it is the best place in the world, so it's a dichotomy that no Canadian mining company ranks in the top 10 in the world. The second point was that his company (Newmont), like most others, will be losing half of its qualified staff over the next 10 years to retirement, and there are not currently enough students enrolled in universities to replace them. "This year Newmont is hiring 10% of the mining grads in the U.S."

He concluded, "A great deal of Canadian wealth comes from mining. When you look at your needs, and remember that today is the best of times, I encourage you to put some money back into the industry. Our kids need it."

I applaud industry's support of colleges and universities that are developing the workers of tomorrow. It only makes sense. Companies can benefit not only from the high calibre of future employees, but also from the university-based collaborative research that raises the standards of knowledge and techniques. I would add that, while the University of Toronto has a venerable, large mining school with a good reputation, it is not the only school that deserves industry support. We need to maintain earth science and mining schools in many centres across the country, to train employees for the specific needs of each region.

The other way that industry and government institutions need to support future employees is through offering steady work. Students need good summer jobs that pay well and give on-the-job training. New grads need to get their foot in the door with a starter job that's going to lead to opportunities. And experienced employees need some assurance that they can find a career's worth of work in their field, and not have to retool as a stock broker or real estate agent to see them through the low parts of the cycle. There's no need to wonder where the new grads will come from. They will be there, if they have some assurance that mining and earth science careers will support them over the long haul.


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