Mining engineers strike gold – by Josh Dehaas (Maclean’s Magazine – September 13, 2012)

 Maclean’s is the largest circulation weekly news magazine in Canada, reporting on Canadian issues such as politics, pop culture, and current events.

Graduating with a degree in mining engineering seems to be a ticket to a well-paying job

Kyle Buckoll finished his bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia in April. Unlike many 23-year-old university graduates, he didn’t settle at his parents’ house in Maple Ridge, B.C., to start hunting for internships or entry-level jobs. Instead, he went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey with 31 fellow class-of-2012 graduates from UBC’s mining engineering program. They marvelled at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, visited two of the seven ancient wonders of the world, and lounged on beach chairs in Bodrum to toast their graduation. They also toured six mines, because the flight, hotels and buses were all paid for by mining companies eager to show their largesse.
Buckoll wasn’t worried about student loans, either. His tuition for the last four years was covered by Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata. In addition to working for the firm while at school, he promised to work for Xstrata after graduation (he will owe them money if he quits in the first two years). After a summer spent touring Europe for fun, he has a well-paying job waiting for him at the company’s mine in Timmins, Ont., in September. His two vehicles will be there, shipped from Vancouver at Xstrata’s expense. His girlfriend will join him there too, her flight and moving expenses covered. They’ll settle into a home with the rent taken care of for the first two months. 
Buckoll’s situation, enviable as it sounds, isn’t uncommon. Practically all of his classmates graduated with jobs lined up. Good jobs: pay starts at around $65,000 per year for mining engineers-in-training (EITs) and climbs to around $100,000 after three to five years. Buckoll didn’t get a signing bonus, but he estimates that half of his classmates did.

It’s not just at UBC where finishing a mining engineering degree is like winning the lottery. Students at mining engineering schools across Canada tell similar tales of multiple job offers with perks. It’s because of a global shortage of mining engineers, the people who plan and monitor mineral extraction or work at banks and investment firms assessing current and future digs.
In light of the demand, it may seem ironic that these newly minted grads have backup plans. Buckoll’s is business school. “We’re in an industry that’s very, very hot right now,” he says, “but it’s sometimes a little bit cold.” Just months after he started the mining specialization in his second year at UBC, the industry turned “a lot cold,” says Buckoll. Mineral prices plunged alongside the global stock markets, which led to dozens of mine closures. The fact is, today’s hottest engineering field, the one drawing some of Canada’s most ambitious university students like a modern-day Klondike gold rush, is also dependent on Canada’s most volatile industry. Who knows how long the boom will last?
So far, that recessionary drop in mineral production appears to have been a blip in a decade of mostly huge growth. Canada produced more than $50 billion of minerals in 2011, according to Natural Resources Canada. That was up 150 per cent from 2001, when the haul was about $20 billion. The growth in mining engineering programs has followed the growth in production. Ten years ago, McGill’s mining engineering program was only receiving one or two applications per year. This year there were 250 students competing for at least 35 spots. It’s a Canada-wide phenomenon. In 2006, 88 mining engineers graduated in Canada. In 2010, there were 200.
One of those graduates is Sabrina Miguel, 22, who finished her degree from the University of Toronto in April and then started a job in June at Rio Tinto’s borax mine in California’s Mojave Desert. In a few years she might be working at Rio Tinto’s giant Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. International travel is a given for mining engineers. They’re in demand worldwide.
Travel is not the only reason the field attracts plucky people. Good job prospects are obviously top of the list. Miguel, like most of the young engineers interviewed for this article, chose the specialization on the advice of an established engineer. A civil engineer, a friend of her father’s, back in her hometown of Whitby, Ont., told her, “Don’t go into civil,” she recalls. “He said, ‘There are no jobs, you’ll have to do a master’s, and then maybe you’ll get a job, but it will be a horribly paying job.’ ” He told her mining was the quickest route to a high-paying career.
So far so good. Miguel had four companies call, starting in January, to express interest in hiring her. The first was Rio Tinto, which paid for her flight to Los Angeles for a job interview. They offered her a “dream job” before she could even consider the other two companies. She nailed down employment months before graduation. How many 22-year-olds can say that?
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