Mining grads in demand – by Gemma Karstens-Smith (National Post – April 17, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

From gas to gold, getting raw materials out of the ground is big business in Canada. The country produced more than $50-billion worth of minerals in 2011, up from $19.6-billion in 2001, according to estimates from Natural Resources Canada.

“We’ve seen just a huge surge in growth and investment, driven largely by demand from countries like China,” said Paul Hebert, vice-president of government relations for the Mining Association of Canada. “We’re seeing a lot more exploration, we’re seeing huge investments in projects of all sizes, investments to expand, but also investments in new projects.”

There’ll be about $140-billion worth of investments in the mining sector over the next five years, Mr. Hebert said.

The increase in production has created a demand for engineers and workers. There were 308,000 employed in mining in 2010, according to the MAC. But there will be a need for more than 100,000 new workers over the next decade.

Universities offering training for the mining industry have seen enormous growth. The University of Toronto’s Lassonde Mineral Engineering Program has seen applications jump 200% in the past three years, said John Hadjigeorgiou, the program’s director.

“The message is out that there are lots of opportunities and high-paying jobs,” he said.

Students coming out of the programs are hot commodities. Five students who graduated from the University of New Brunswick’s Geological Engineering Program last winter are now working in the field.

“It’s been relatively small numbers graduating and the demand’s really high,” said Karl Butler, director of the program. “There’s a lot of resource-intensive activity in Canada.”

In Canada, admissions to the top mining schools have nearly tripled in three years, helped by salaries that can be even higher for graduates who move abroad. Recruiters say six-figure starting rates are increasingly common in Australia, where mid-career engineers make more than $200,000 a year.

Indeed, the job market there is so hot that Australia has loosened its immigration policy to allow more highly skilled mine workers in on short-term visas, a type of reform that Canada is considering.

“Ten years ago we were lucky to have one or two students applying,” said Ferri Hassani, a professor of mining engineering at McGill University in Montreal. “In some years it was that bad. But this year alone 250 people have applied to mining.”

Of the 25 students graduating from U of T’s program next month, “pretty much everybody” has received at least one job offer, Mr. Hadjigeorgiou said. “It’s an embarrassment of options.”

Kyla Bishop, 24, gets “tons of emails every week” from mining companies looking for students and recent graduates to do everything from survey the land to take soil and core samples.

“Companies are looking for students, for people who are qualified, people who can do the work and are willing to do the work,” said Mr. Bishop, a geologist who graduated from the University of Victoria’s Earth and Ocean Sciences program.

Those who land positions are making big bucks right away. The average industry wage is more than $1,600 a week, said Mr. Hebert.

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