B.C. schools increase mining education despite industry downturn – by Derrick Penner (Vancouver Sun – February 17, 2015)


While recent mining news has been dominated by mine closures, layoffs and a retrenchment of prospecting and exploration, UBC’ is launching a new executive MBA program

VANCOUVER — It might seem counterintuitive to launch new education programs focused on mining while the industry is in the middle of a downturn, but B.C.-based institutions are taking a longer-term view than the current business cycle.

While recent mining news has been dominated by mine closures, layoffs and a retrenchment of prospecting and exploration, UBC’s Sauder School of Business is launching a new executive MBA program for mining professionals. At BCIT in Burnaby, the coming fall will see it offer a new bachelor of engineering program in mining.

It is an age-old story now of preparing for the rising tide of retiring baby-boomers, so current layoffs and unemployment aside, the mining industry — B.C.’s in particular — is staring at a disproportionally high segment of its workforce in the 54-to-64 demographic.

“I’m not sure if the timing is good or bad,” said Brian Bemmels, associate dean of the Sauder School. “There are pros and cons to doing this at this time.” It was Vancouver-headquartered mining firms, though, that don’t see the next generation of their industry’s leaders being developed, who prodded the Sauder School into developing the program, Bemmels added.

And while the industry’s steering committee started working with Sauder on developing the program three years ago when mining was still flush from the commodities boom and skyrocketing gold prices, the companies Bemmels added that not many of them seem phased about participating now.

“It’s not too much different from other industries,” he said, “they see a lot of senior leadership in the mining industry that is going to be retiring over the next 10 years.”

Bemmels pointed to an industry survey compiled by the consulting firm Stratum last fall that characterized the problem as a “demographic time bomb,” with 40 per cent of Canada’s mining workforce over the age of 50, and eighty per cent of respondents reporting a belief that the industry is unprepared to deal with it.

The demand for professional graduate education, such as EMBAs, is “counter-cyclical,” rising when business is slower and potential students have more time to go back and upgrade credentials, Bemmels added.

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