[Mining] Co-op students get a head start – by Norm Tollinsky (Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal – November 2012)

Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal is a magazine that showcases the mining expertise of North Bay, Timmins and Sudbury. 

Mining engineering students graduate debt-free with 20 months of experience

A co-op program for students at Laurentian University’s Bharti School of Engineering is a win-win proposition for both participating students and the mining companies that hire them.

Fourth year mining engineering students James Gagner and Ian Berdusco, for example, will graduate debt-free in April with 20 months of work experience under their belts, making them ideal candidates for mining companies looking for engineering talent.

Approximately 50 of the 457 students enrolled in the Bharti School of Engineering are accepted into the co-op program.

They do a four-month placement following the successful completion of second year and a 16-month placement after third year, following which they return to Laurentian for the fourth and final year of the program.

It takes them one year longer to get their degree, but the money they make goes a long way toward paying their tuition while the experience they gain makes them more marketable.

Gagner, who was born and raised in Sudbury, did his first four-month co-op placement at Lake Shore Gold in Timmins.

He worked in the engineering department at the company’s Bell Creek complex where he helped with surveying, ventilation and mine planning.

“It was a great opportunity to get my feet wet in the mining industry,” he said.

Following third year, he returned to Lake Shore Gold for a further eight months in the Bell Creek engineering department, then transferred to the company’s flagship Timmins Mine for an additional eight months, including two months getting his hands dirty in operations.

Lake Shore Gold liked him so much that they agreed to provide him with funding for his last year of school and offered him a full-time job after graduation.


“That’s one of the perks of doing a long-term work placement with a company,” said Gagner. “They get to know you and, if you do a good job and they like you, they want to retain you. I was lucky to get that opportunity, so I’ll be heading back to Timmins after I finish in April.”

Berdusco, who is the fourth generation in his family to work in the mining industry, did his first four- onth placement with Inmet Mining at the former producing Winston Lake zinc mine near Terrace Bay in northwestern Ontario.

Part of a small team responsible for environmental remediation, Berdusco took water and soil samples, assisted with tailings management and developed a GIS mapping program for the site.

His second, 16-month placement was with BHP Billiton’s Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories where he worked primarily in ventilation.

Based in Yellowknife, he spent most of his time on a two-week in, two-week out schedule, which left him plenty of time for fishing, canoeing and getaways across Canada, the U.S. and South America. During the final four months of his placement at Ekati, he was assigned a project management role involving the construction of arches within the kimberlite to gain access to the centre of the orebody.

Berdusco has had several interviews with prospective employers, but is keeping his options open. “I’m really looking for an overseas opportunity, so I’ll wait and see.

I don’t think there’s any reason not to be optimistic. I’m sure all of us will be very happy come April.” In addition to their salaries, both students also received living allowances to help cover the cost of rental accommodations.

Laurentian’s Bharti School of Engineering isn’t the only school in Canada to offer a co-op program, but Laurentian is much more proactive about finding placements for students, said co-op program co- rdinator Claudine Beausoleil.

Having scored eight first place finishes in the 22-year history of the Canadian Mining Games, Laurentian’s mining engineering students make her job that much easier.

Gagner didn’t know about the co-op program when he was accepted into Engineering, but jumped at the opportunity as soon as he learned about it.

“A lot of students say they don’t want to do it because they want to finish their four years of school and start making real money, but being on co-op for that year and a half, I was making money that they were making after their four years, plus I was getting experience.


“As a co-op student,” noted Gagner, “you leave school with all these contacts and you’ve done all this networking. It sets you that much further ahead in the industry than students who are coming out of school green without any experience.”

According to Beausoleil, co-op students earn an average of $4,600 a month, or between $80,000 and $100,000 during their 20 months of work placement. Following graduation, she added, engineering students usually start at between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, while graduates from the co-op program start at between $70,000 and $80,000 a year because of their experience.

As an added bonus, graduates of the co-op program are given a full year’s credit toward the four years of employment needed to qualify for their P.Eng designation.