MiHR Sudbury Case Study Focus: Education/Training and Relationship with Mining Industry

The Mining Industry Human Resource Council (MiHR) was formed to address the human resources challenges in the Canadian mining industry.

This case study on post-secondary mining education in the Sudbury region came from a 2005 report called “Prospecting the Future: Meeting Human Resources Challenges in the Canadian Minerals and Metals Industry”.

 Please note that some of the enrolment figures will be much higher today and some charts have been omitted due to format issues.

MiHR Sudbury Case Study Focus: Education/Training and Relationship with Mining Industry


This case study examines the mining industry in Sudbury and its well-developed infrastructure for mining-related education, training and research.

Sudbury is one of Canada’s few long-lived mining sites, with mining operations dating back more than 100 years. The mining industry got its start in the area in 1883, when ore with high levels of copper sulphites were discovered. The formation is one of the most productive mining sites in the world and is generally thought to be the result of a meteorite impact.(58) The major commodities mined in the area are nickel, copper, gold, silver, platinum group metals and cobalt.

Sudbury is Canada’s leading mining community and is considered one the world’s four great mining “city-states.” (59) It is the only city in the world with 15 producing mines within city limits.

With known reserves, the industry is predicted to continue for another 100 years,(60) although the rate of production, and hence level of employment, will eventually decline as ore-bodies are exhausted.

The “Sudbury Mining Supply and Services Cluster” is the largest integrated mining cluster in the world.

In addition to the two major mining employers, Inco and Falconbridge, the network is made up of the Canadian Mining Industry Research Organization (CAMIRO), the Canadian Construction and Mining division of Atlas Copco, the Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation, and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO), the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory and almost 300 mining and supply services companies. The financial cluster for the global mining industry is in Toronto.(61)

Three post-secondary institutions in Sudbury offer mining-specifi c education programs: Laurentian University, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal. These institutions collaborate with industry, government and other training, research and service organizations to advance common goals for the region.

Economic Base

Sudbury serves as a base for geology and exploration, as well as huge smelting operations. Exploration for nickel, copper and palladium group metals in the Sudbury Basin has increased in recent years: there was more exploration activity in and around the basin in 2002 than in the rest
of Ontario. The combined value of historic production and present reserves and resources from the Sudbury Basin, in today’s dollars, exceeds CDN$366 billion. The current GDP for Greater Sudbury in total is approximately CDN$6.8 billion.

Regional factors relative to Sudbury’s economy include:
• the potential sale of Noranda-Falconbridge;
• the massive exploration program currently under way;
• development of Sudbury as an International Centre for Mining Innovation; and
• the possible relocation of the headquarters of the Geological Survey of Canada from Ottawa to Sudbury.(62)

The expanding Sudbury population as well as its increasing economic diversity bodes well for the region in terms of surviving as a self-sustaining community. As one interviewee noted, however, successful resource towns typically need to grow to a population greater than 200,000 to maintain themselves once the natural resource becomes exhausted. It will be important, therefore, that Sudbury continue to experience a certain level of population growth and establish a strong economic base in sustainable activities.

Having said that, there are sufficient reserves to sustain mining for at least another 100 years.

Demographic Profile

As a northern community traditionally linked to natural resources, Sudbury’s population over the last three decades has mirrored the cyclical nature of the minerals and metals industry. After peaking in the early 1970s at 169,580 (1971 Census), the population dropped to 152,470 by 1986, mainly due to downsizing in the mining sector. This negatively affected the local economy and led to an out-migration of people. The population then increased to 164,049 in 1996 but fell in the late 1990s, due in part to persistent low commodity prices. By 2001, the population had fallen to 155,220.(63) The latest population data (2003) show another upswing, this time reaching 160,113.(64)

There are relatively fewer people younger than 35 and relatively more older than 50 in the Sudbury area than the rest of Ontario and Canada. This older demographic could have serious implications for the minerals and metals industry workforce.

The local Aboriginal population could provide a critical component of the industry’s labour force. Aboriginal people make up 4.6% of Greater Sudbury’s population, a larger proportion than the rest of Ontario and Canada (2001 Census).

Industry trainers and firm representatives in Sudbury have suggested that these lower education levels were because Inco and Falconbridge, until recently, did not require all their mining and smelting employees to be high school graduates. Therefore, individuals could enter the workforce and obtain a relatively high paying job without completing high school. However, as technologies became more complex and industry health and safety standards more strict, both firms now require all employees to have at least a Grade 12 education. In addition, the Ontario government has legislated that mining workers in Ontario receive Common Core training and certification.

According to the latest labour force survey figures (January 2005), the greater Sudbury Census metropolitan area has a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 7.8%, higher than the rest of Ontario (6.8%) and Canada (7.1%). The employment rate is 61.3%.(66) The slightly higher
unemployment rate in Sudbury could reflect the high unemployment among Sudbury’s Aboriginal population (19.7% in 2001). It is important to note, however, that the labour force participation rate for Sudbury’s Aboriginals (60.0%) was comparable with that of the region overall.(67) This suggest that employers may be underutilizing this segment of the population.

The Minerals and Metals Industry Labour Force

Most of Ontario’s mining and smelting employment is in the nickel, copper and zinc corridor that comprises Inco and Falconbridge mines and smelters in the Sudbury area and Falconbridge’s Kidd Creek Mines in Timmins. In 1971, Inco and Falconbridge dominated the local labour force, employing over 25,000 workers. Over the next three decades, employment in this sector fell significantly.

A number of reasons explain this: new mining technologies increased improved training created a more skilled workforce; bonus plans encouraged employees to remain; and non-value added work was eliminated. According to the 2001 Census, there were 4,830 people directly employed in mining in Sudbury, representing 6.2% of the total labour force. In 2004, the combined total employment of Inco and Falconbridge Sudbury operations was 5,549, an overall decline of 74% in the mining labour force since 1974, as detailed in Chart 1-1.(68)

Despite fewer mining jobs, the demand for products, services and technological advancement fuelled the development of a mining services cluster. By 2001, employment in the mining supply and services sector totalled 8,500.(69)

The Greater Sudbury mining cluster is the biggest of its kind in Canada and it has been growing jobs for Sudbury at an annual rate of 10% over the last five years.

There are also a significant number of people involved in exploration, which is one of the major forms of research in the mining industry. It is estimated that over 700 people are engaged in mining related research in the region.

Most employees in the Sudbury minerals and metals industry are from the region. Local employers face a current shortage of the more generalist types of trades and an emerging shortage in production occupations. Within the next 30 months, this labour shortage will likely be severe. Up to 5,000 replacement workers will be needed in such key occupations as heavy-duty equipment operators, millwrights, welders and transport drivers.(70)

 Retirement is a key factor in the labour shortage: in the next three to five years, one third of Inco’s Ontario division workforce will be eligible to retire; in the past year, close to 200 Falconbridge employees were eligible to retire. Employees with 30 years of service are retiring as early as age 48 with a full pension.(71)

Education and Training Infrastructure

Like many cities of similar size, Sudbury has a solid educational infrastructure, consisting of:

• 23 Kindergarten to Grade 8 schools (public, separate and private), not including surrounding communities;
• 8 high schools (public, separate and private), plus 6 more in surrounding communities;
• 2 colleges: Cambrian College and Collège Boréal; and
• 2 universities: Laurentian University and the University of Sudbury (a liberal arts Catholic university).

Sudbury is the only mining community in Canada to host a research university. In addition, due to the strong focus on the minerals and metals industry, there are other unique aspects to the education and training available in the Greater Sudbury region. The various mining-related education and training facilities and their respective offerings are described below.

Laurentian University

Founded in 1960, Laurentian University is a relatively new university.(72) It offers undergraduate programs in engineering and Ph.D.s in Geology and Natural Resource Engineering. Survey data has not yet been received from Laurentian University. However, a report on the status of Canadian university programs in mining engineering shows that in 2000, Laurentian had 21 B.Sc. graduates in mining engineering, higher than the five-year average of 10 B.Sc. graduates per year.

Although no data for the number of M.Sc. and Ph.D. graduates were available, there were six and zero students enrolled, respectively, in mining engineering at the graduate level for the 1999/2000 academic year.(73)

Laurentian University has appointed a Vice-President to advance the “mining initiative” and has made mining and mining-related research a major focus. Research institutes, facilities and centres at the university include:

• MIRARCO and associated centres;
• Centre for Mining and Mineral Exploration Research (CIMMER);
• Mineral Exploration Research Centre (MERC);
• Laurentian University Mining Automation Laboratory (LUMAL);
• Elliot Lake Research Field Station (ELRFS); and
• Telerobotics and Automation Research Centre (TRAC).

Laurentian University is involved in various types of industry partnerships. For example, LUMAL is supported by the Department of Mines Technology of Inco Ltd. at Copper Cliff, Ontario. Another example, Inco and Falconbridge have representatives on the Board of Directors at MIRARCO.

Cambrian College

Cambrian College delivers Mining Engineering Technology, Geological Engineering Technology and Mining Engineering Technician programs as well as other mining-related diploma and certifi cate programs. It offers one-year trades certificates, two-year trades diplomas, and diplomas in engineering technology and as an engineering technician. According to surveys, there are 496 students enrolled in mining-related programs and courses in the current academic year. Of these, 459 could graduate within their registered program this year. However, students have the option of continuing on from a one-year certificate program to two-year technician or three-year technology diploma programs. In 2002/03, more than 150 students graduated with certifi cates or diplomas from mining-related programs.

The College is also home to NORCAT, which offers safety training and entry-level training required by employees in the minerals and metals sector in Ontario. NORCAT provides Common Core mine training for companies and individuals who require the standardized Common Core modules to work in a mining environment. In co-operation with Ontario mining companies, NORCAT has developed a Common Contractor Orientation Program.(74) SkyTech at Cambrian College sponsors apprenticeship co-op placements for heavy equipment, industrial maintenance mechanic and industrial electrician students.(75)

Partnerships with Inco and Falconbridge have expanded opportunities for students and graduates through specialized training programs and co-op work placement initiatives. Some high level technology diploma programs have been designed in conjunction with Inco. For example, Inco recently donated equipment, software and training materials valued at $1.3 million.(76)

Collège Boréal

Collège Boréal is a francophone institution that offers training and apprenticeship programs for occupations related to the minerals and metals industry. It partners with sector organizations to place students for job training. Collège Boréal has created a combined Mining and Civil Engineering program to address student concerns about the cyclical nature of the mining industry.

The College expects to have 17 graduates this year, 19 graduates in two years and 20 graduates in five years. Enrollments are expected to increase from 31 students in the present school year to 35 in the next five years. It should be noted, however, that enrollment in the program is reportedly growing more slowly than other programs at the College.

On March 25, 2004, the Centre for Industrial and Commercial Subcontracting of Ontario (STICO) was inaugurated at Collège Boréal’s main campus in Sudbury. STICO will aid in the global management of suppliers and subcontractors in Ontario, including those involved in the minerals and metals industry, through a virtual business network.(77)

Skilled Trades

In response to the current shortage of experienced trades people and anticipated retirement trends, concerted efforts are under way in Sudbury to encourage youth to enter into trades training related to minerals and metals. The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) places high school seniors into the workplace to learn a skilled trade. The Rainbow District School Board has also initiated an outreach program designed to identify potential candidates for apprenticeship program placements.(78)

Industry-based Training

Both Falconbridge and Inco offer training for other workforce development programs or courses to employees. Trainers are typically recruited internally. With new equipment, the firms frequently enlist the vendor to help develop the training program and/or deliver the training. A “train-the -trainer” approach is applied whereby one or two individuals receive specialized training and pass their knowledge on to the other trainers.

At Inco, most of the underground and surface training is legislated by the Ontario government as part of the Common Core Program. About 20% of the training is delivered through computer-based training or by instructors in a classroom while 80% is delivered “hands on” in the field, mostly one-on-one (or one-on-two). Inco has numerous programs to develop the skill and talent pool of its employees. Most are organized and delivered internally, but specialty programs are delivered by external professionals brought to the Sudbury operations.

Most of the hourly rate training is covered by the collective agreement with employees. Inco also offers the Underground Mining Common Core program to post-secondary students in Sudbury. Inco provides a four-week Ontario Common Core training course to mining technology and engineering students at Cambrian College, Collège Boréal and Laurentian University, free of charge.

Similarly, Falconbridge has an internal training department that completes most of the training, and uses external trainers for specialty areas. It has one central training program, and the rest are site specific. The courses are organized and delivered by modules in the classroom and on the job, and include the Ontario Common Core programs. Computer-Based Terminal (CBT) learning is tied to performance objectives. In addition, Falconbridge offers distance job-related learning courses, such as the renewal of First Aid qualifications.

It has also implemented a tuition assistance program. Both companies employ a “due diligence” approach in their hiring processes to ensure that Common Core standards, at a minimum, are met. Inco has both management and union representative on various provincial committees that review training. Falconbridge has registered its training through the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and often works with the Ministry to promote this training to other companies in Ontario.


There is significant research capacity in the Sudbury region. Mining research occurs at Cambrian College, the federal CanMet Labs, Inco, Falconbridge and the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) at Laurentian University. With the OGS, Laurentian University boasts one of the best analytical facilities for mining in North America.

The not-for-profit CAMIRO is run by the mining industry to manage collaborative mining research. CAMIRO initiates and manages applied collaborative research to improve the technology and reduce the costs of exploration, project development, mining and processing of mineral deposits.

MIRARCO, founded in 1998, is a not-for-profi t applied research and technical service organization formed through collaboration between Laurentian University and the private and public sectors. MIRARCO customizes applied research teams from several mining and environmental centres, including:

• Geomechanics Research Centre (GRC);
• Centre for Environmental Monitoring (CEM);
• Centre for Mining Technology (CMT);
• MIRARCO’s Mining Exploratorium Program; and
• Centre for Integrated Monitoring Technology (CIMTEC).

MIRARCO offers short professional development courses on demand, including:

• Valuing and Managing Mining Projects with Real Options;
• Ventilation and Heat Management in Deep Mines;
• Advanced Aqueous Electrometallurgy;
• Applied Geostatistics for Ore Reserve Estimation;
• Tunnelling and Brittle Failure of Excavations in Highly Stressed, Rockbursting Ground; • Slope Stability in Rock and Soil: Slope Failure Mechanisms, Monitoring and Stability Analysis; and
• MAP 3D Workshop.

MIRARCO markets its products and services to the minerals and metals industry across Canada.

HR Planning and Strategies for Recruitment and Retention

The mining firms in Sudbury do not specifically recruit certain demographic groups, although one interviewee noted that there are now more women in the field than in the past. Given the older labour force, however, companies might consider more actively recruiting specific groups such as women or Aboriginals. That is, companies will have to work to maximize the use of the existing local labour force and promote mining careers to everyone in the region.

During interviews with representatives from Sudbury employers and labour representatives, it became evident that both consider human resource planning to be an important aspect of the two- and fi ve-year business planning process at the operational level. Succession planning is a key aspect to the human resource strategies of Sudbury-based mining and smelting operations. “Annual demonstrative studies” of the workforce are undertaken, and both human resource managers and union representatives have clear knowledge of upcoming retirements in the various occupational groups and company’s or industry’s replacement needs.

Managers at the operational level are well aware that retirement will have a large effect on the local minerals and metals industry. Interviewees also noted that human resource planning in the minerals and metals sector must strategize in terms of industry competition for the labour force.

Retention strategies are less well developed as their main purpose is to keep employees from seeking employment with competing fi rms. According to industry and labour representatives, employees in the Sudbury region typically do not leave the minerals and metals industry for a career in another sector. The two most likely reasons for leaving the industry were noted as “winning the lottery” and poor health. This situation could be somewhat unique to Sudbury, as the area has such a long and steady history of mining and is considered somewhat of a “Mecca for mining.”

Site-Specific Issues and Observations

Within the Sudbury area, all industry stakeholders are working together to advance the sector by actively developing and promoting the region as a national and global leader in the minerals and metals industry at a number of levels.

However, there are still challenges to be met. For example, there are significant mining engineering programs at universities in the more southern parts of Ontario (such as University of Toronto and Queen’s University) that were established before there were universities in Northern Ontario.

Even in Sudbury, where mining is a cornerstone to the historical development of the region, postsecondary institutions are beginning to “hide” the mining and metallurgical programs withinthe broader, more generalist programs, such as Civil Engineering.

The continued development of Northern Ontario depends significantly on moving the research and high-tech jobs related to mining, and other resource industries such as forestry, into the North.(79)


58 The Mining Supply and Services Cluster, Sudbury (Canada). http://inord.laurentian.ca/11_03/Robinson_Woodsworth.htm.

59 Ibid.

60 Sudbury: Found Locally website. http://sudbury.foundlocally.com/Local/Info-CityHistoryRailwayMiningBoom.htm.

61 Greater Sudbury Development Corporation website.

62 Northern Ontario Business website. Mining R&D Centre of Excellence Vital.
http://www.northernontariobusiness.com/regional/Sudbury/headlines.asp?437id145-pn=&view=30431. (28 February 2005).

63 The City of Greater Sudbury website.

64 Ontario Ministry of Finance (2004). Demographic Trends: Population Estimates for Census Subdivisions.

65 The City of Greater Sudbury website.

66 The City of Greater Sudbury website.

67 M. Mendelson. 2004. Aboriginal People in Canada’s Labour Market: Work and Unemployment, Today and Tomorrow.
The Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

68 The City of Greater Sudbury website.

69 The Mining Supply and Services Cluster, Sudbury (Canada). http://inord.laurentian.ca/11_03/Robinson_Woodsworth.htm.

70 Northern Ontario Business website. Labour Expert Working to Close ‘Incredible’ Gap.
www.northernontariobusiness.com/regional/Sudbury/ (18 February 2005).

71 Sudbury Mining Solutions website. www.sudburyminingsolutions.com/skills.asp?20id4-pn=&view=570.

72 Sudbury: Found Locally website. http://sudbury.foundlocally.com/Local/Info-CityHistoryRailwayMiningBoom.htm.

73 Archibald, J.F. 2001. The Status of Canadian University Programs in Mining Engineering. Department of Mining Engineering.
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

74 Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) website. http://www.norcat.org/ocgct.htm.

75 Cambrian College SkyTech website. http://homepages.cambrianc.on.ca/skytech/coop_placements.htm.

76 Cambrian College website. http://www.cambrianc.on.ca/_About_Cambrian/partnerships.htm.

77 STICO Centre website. http://www.stico.ca/www/index.asp?lang=en.

78 Ulrichson, H. (December, 2004). Schools, industry unite to promote trades. www.sudburyminingsolutions.com.

79 The Mining Supply and Services Cluster, Sudbury (Canada). http://inord.laurentian.ca/11_03/Robinson_Woodsworth.htm.


Archibald, J.F. 2001. The Status of Canadian University Programs in Mining Engineering.
Department of Mining Engineering. Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Cambrian College SkyTech website.
http://homepages.cambrianc.on.ca/skytech/coop_placements.htm (07 March 2005).

Cambrian College website.
http://www.cambrianc.on.ca/_About_Cambrian/partnerships.htm (07 March 2005).

Centre for Industrial and Commercial Subcontracting of Ontario (STICO Centre) website.
http://www.stico.ca (07 March 2005).

The City of Greater Sudbury website. http://www.city.greatersudbury.on.ca (25 February 2005).

Greater Sudbury Development Corporation website. http://www.sudbury.ca (28 February 2005).

Laurentian University website.
http://international.laurentian.ca/outbound_archives/news.php?id=47 (24 February 2005).

Mendelson, M. 2004. Aboriginal People in Canada’s Labour Market: Work and Unemployment,
Today and Tomorrow. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) website. http://www.norcat.org/ocgct.htm
(16 February 2005).

Northern Ontario Business website. Mining R&D Centre of Excellence Vital http://www.
(28 February 2005).

Ontario Ministry of Finance (2004). Ontario Demographic Quarterly. Demographic Trends:
Population Estimates for Census Subdivisions.

Sudbury: Found Locally website. http://sudbury.foundlocally.com (01 March 2005).

Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) website.
SAMSSA Survey Suggest Major Shift in Mining Employment.
(14 Feb 2005).

Sudbury Mining Solutions website.
www.sudburyminingsolutions.com/skills.asp?20id4-pn=&view=570 (24 February 2005).
Ulrichson, H. December 2004. Schools, industry unite to promote trades. www.

Woodsworth, J. and D. Robinson. 2003. The Mining Supply and Services Cluster, Sudbury
(Canada). Presentation at the CLUSTERS 2003 International Conference on Technology Cluster.