Sudbury Can Become a Global Centre for Mining Education – Stan Sudol

Stan Sudol - Executive Speech Writer and Mining ColumnistIn 2008, for the first time in human history, more than half of the global population will be living in cities. The planet is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth ever, spearheaded by the massive migration of Chinese farmers to their cities.

Access to mineral commodities is critical if this trend of urbanization and industrialization in China, India and much of the rest of the lesser developed nations are to continue. This is no ordinary boom-bust cycle. We have entered a “once-in-a-generation,” long-term commodity boom that will ensure that Sudbury remains prosperous for decades to come.

However, an explosive demand for skilled mining geologists and engineers to find and develop the future mineral deposits as well as keep the present ones running will be one of the most significant global challenges the mining industry faces. Especially since a large number of the current generation are close to retirement.

According to a comprehensive study by the Mining Industry Training and Adjustment Council (MITAC), the Canadian mining industry needs to fill 92,000 high-paying, highly skilled new positions in the next ten years. Similar studies in Australia put their skilled mining workforce shortage at about 70,000 people. The rest of the world is facing similar shortages.

Sudbury has one of the largest concentrations of post-secondary mining education programs in Canada. The highly skilled mining graduates from Laurentian, Cambrian and College Boreal are in demand locally and globally. If there is ever a time for the city to capitalize on this mining education expertise, it is now.

The community in partnership with the provincial government and the two global mining giants operating in the Sudbury Basin – Vale and Xstrata – should find the funding to significantly expand the local mining educational facilities in order to start training the next generation of badly needed skilled professionals that Canada and the rest of the world needs.

Once the proposed expansion is completed, the local post-secondary mining faculties should aggressively market these new programs around the world as well as establish linkages with mining universities in Brazil, South Africa, Australia and other countries including the U.S. 

Most mining students would probably jump at the opportunity to do part of their training in the legendary Sudbury Basin.This region is the richest mining district in North America and among the top ten most significant globally.

According to the Ontario Mining Association, half of the province’s mining activity and revenue are generated from the geologically rich ore deposits beneath our feet. Outside of South Africa and perhaps Russia and Australia, there is no other area in the world with the concentration of hardrock, underground mining expertise as Sudbury.

There is a high concentration of retired mining industry experts in the community who would enjoy the opportunity to help train the next global generation of skilled mineral industry professionals. And a thriving supply and service sector that is also an integral part of the hardrock mining culture of the city further enhances Sudbury’s reputation as a global mining city-state.

Furthermore, the Rainbow District School Board in Sudbury is offering a unique Specialist High Skills Major program that focuses student’s studies on a specific economic sector while meeting the requirements for their secondary school diploma (OSSD). In Sudbury, the students will concentrate on the booming mining industry and be encouraged to explore and consider the many employment opportunities in this sector.

The first step in establishing Sudbury as the premier global centre for hardrock mining education is to consolidate all of Ontario’s post-secondary mining engineering and geology programs at Laurentian University.

Currently, the three mining engineering programs in the province – University of Toronto, Queens and Laurentian – are all small, under-subscribed in the south and require high costs to run. Funding is enrolment-driven and it becomes difficult to maintain the curriculum required to produce effective mining engineering graduates with a small number of students.

There are approximately eight geology departments in Ontario, none of which have achieved the critical scale or mass that can attract significant industry participation.

In the past 25 years, post-secondary institutions have witnessed declining enrolments in mining engineering, geology and other technical programs. Many programs throughout North America have been eliminated due to the prolonged slump in global mining.

There are ten accredited mining engineering programs in the U.S. as opposed to 25, two decades ago. In 2008, American mineral schools will graduate 150-170 mining engineers while the demand is for 350-400 in that country alone.

Some institutions “hide” or integrate these mining programs into other more generic fields such as geological, civil and mechanical engineering departments. As a result, universities are at risk of losing relevancy to the industry.

Southern Ontario’s urbanized students have no exposure to the mining sector. How are we going to convince these students who have probably never seen a mine and are comfortable living in large cities that mining is an industry with a bright future?

If the critical need for the next generation of skilled professionals is to be met, the mining sector must come to the table with significant funding in partnership with governments.

During the next five years, Brazilian-based Vale is spending $59 billion on expansion and creating 62,000 jobs in Brazil and around the world. The company is building technical schools in Brazil and is in desperate need of geologists and mining engineers.

Laurentian, Cambrian and College Boreal should contact Vale head office in Brazil with a detailed proposal on how this community, with provincial participation can quickly expand our mining programs and start training the next generation of Brazilian geologists and mining engineers.

But Sudbury should not only focus on Brazil. The entire world is our potential market. The hardrock mining expertise in the Sudbury Basin has few equals in the world. Combine this with the high standards of the Canadian educational system and Sudbury could easily become a global training centre for mining expertise.

Ten years ago, no one in this community would have thought that the first new medical school in Canada would have one of their campuses in Sudbury training the next generation of northern doctors. Ten years from now, I would like to see the next generation of skilled mining technicians in Brazil, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Russia, China and the rest of the world to have been educated in Sudbury.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based executive speech writer and mining columnist.