Australian, South African, American and Canadian Employment in the mining industry. Considered are the roles and responsibilities of miners, technicians, geologists, geotechnical engineers, process engineers, nurses, and health & safety professionals in the mining industry.
The mining industry is booming. At the mines and in the towns that support the mines new jobs open up every day. You want one of these jobs, but wonder what the opportunities are. Here are a few ideas and links to web sites that will help you identify job opportunities in mining and in support of mining, regardless of your skills or level of training.
First take a look at the Canadian North West Territories booklet Jobs In Mining
. This great booklet is free for download. It contains a useful description of jobs you can apply for in the mining industry.
Second have a look at what I write below for some personal tips on job opportunities in the mining industry. To help get perspective on the jobs in mining, and what the jobs involve, I also describe some of the people I have been lucky enough to work with in mining. Everyone was unique, everyone was precious to me, and everyone represents the fun & success that awaits you in the mining industry.
Canadian Mining Jobs
A Career in Mining is a website funded by the Canadian taxpayer. In spite of this obvious bias, it has some useful information about jobs in mining. For example, here is a list of professional and scientific occupations in mining (the links take you to descriptions of the work done by each profession):
There are many more, including Drillers and Blasters, Machining Tool Operator, Heavy Equipment Operator, Underground Production Miner, and Industrial Electrician. Take a look at these and the Profiles & Testimonials, Training & Education, and Find an Employer pages.
Jobs For Youth
My first job ever was in the mining industry. I was sixteen and knew nothing. Somehow or other I got a job collecting time cards and entering the details by hand into the ledger. This was the basis of payment to the miners.
The point is that there are jobs for students at the mines and in the communities that support the mines. My introduction to Alaskan mining was the young folk who helped the cook and the laundry people run the camp over the summer—they made a fortune and returned rich to their homes and the winter.
Of course the job you will get as an untrained youth in the mining industry could be considered a "roughneck' kind of job. No problem—there is a web site that caters for folk like you; they have a section on roughneck mining jobs. I quote from the site RoughneckChronicles.com:
The people behind this web site either are currently or have been involved in what are considered "roughneck" jobs, and so we are fully able to appreciate both the challenges and rewards that this sort of work can offer. Many of us are continuing a long family tradition in these industries, or are just interested because of those family members.
The idea for this site came when we noticed that there weren't a lot of resources on the internet for people already in the industry, as well as people looking to get a start. We thought it would be a great idea to gather all sorts of resources together, providing a great benefit to those who don't have a lot of free time to surf the web. To us the most important things seemed to be news and articles about the industry, along with job and employer information.
We here at Roughneck Chronicles hope that the information we've gathered together is helpful to you. Although it can be difficult and often dangerous, we are all proud to be called Roughnecks!
Another site that caters to youth seeking to enter the mining industry, specifically on the exploration side is the Students Page of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada. Here you will find information about scholarships, careers, jobs, and news of interest to youth.
There is no such thing as a "typical" person in the mining industry. To prove this point, here are sketches of some of the people I talked to at the SME Conference in St Louis, March 2006. I record them as further evidence (if that were needed) of the diversity of talent and opportunity in the mining and related industries. I apologize in advance to these folk if my memory has distorted their remarks and the reality of our discussions, all of which were fun and instructive.
Arnie Weber, Publisher of the Miners News & Aggregates Directory. He told me of the problems of compiling a newsletter for the mining industry without the support of a sophisticated computer and of his desire to avoid ever having to compile his newspaper electronically.
Paul Rollins, Business Development Manager of Willowstick. Only part of his display arrived so he was distracted but nevertheless spent a long time explaining their equipment that creates electrical currents used in mapping groundwater flow. He emphasized that the company is primarily a consulting company and the equipment (parts of which did not arrive) are but an adjunct to the primary business of conventional consulting.
Bruce Allen, Mines and Quarries Geological Services and Roger Sharp, Director, Geotechnical and Mining Services for United States Gypsum Company. They have gypsum mines in Iowa so I stopped by to chat and find out what they do. I almost finagled myself an invitation to visit one of their operations while I spend spring in Iowa.
Matt J. Blattman, Corporate Mining Manager, Cemex in Houston. They mine the materials and supply cement to the mining industry. He admitted they were at the show as much to interact with the industry as to recruit young engineers and geologists for their operations. I wonder if he succeeded. It must be fun to be a miner living in Houston, Texas.
Otto Schumacher, President of CostMine (a division of InfoMine). He told me that he worked many years ago for the geological survey in Spokane and then decided to form his own company to collect, collate, and sell information about the costs of mining. This he does today and I spent time browsing through the many volumes of data he and his company produce.
Connie M Parratt, Assistant Director of Development, Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, University of Nevada. The nicest person in the whole hall to talk to. She has just recently taken this job and her enthusiasm was infectious. She is committed to making opportunities for the mining graduates of the school and we wish her well.
Ulrich E. Sibilski, HSE & Services Manager, AngolGold Ashanti Geita Gold Mine, Tanzania. He encouraged young folk with a sense of adventure to go to Africa to mine, and proved his point that it can be fun by describing the successes he has achieved in reclaiming the Geita Mine. Maybe next time I am in Africa?
Maritz Rykaart, Senior Engineer Geotechnical Engineering with SRK in Vancouver. He hails from South Africa, and I could not but be fascinated by his accent which is so resonant of origins and early beginnings. He has promised to let me see his collection of papers on covers for mine waste disposal facilities. I wonder if we can persuade him to turn it into a book for general value.
Jean Vavrek, Directeur executive, CIM. He is charged with making the upcoming CIM conference in Vancouver a success. How difficult can that be when you have the beauty of Vancouver to attract participation compared to the task of the poor folk charged with getting people to St Louis, which may one day have vibrant urban area?
Lisa DePalma, BICO Braun International. I could not help but stop by to chat when I saw she hails from Burbank, California, another nice place to live as a miner. Her father founded the company that supplies small crushers to the mining and other industries, and she is taking over.
Corby G. Anderson, Director and Principal Process Engineer, Montana Tech. He assured me the science of global warming is so flawed that the United States should not sign the Kyoto Treaty, although he agreed with my point that United States' technology and scientific prowess could meet any challenges posed by warming and rising sea levels, and that the mining industry would probably benefit from the demand for materials to meet the new challenges.
Abhishek Choudhury, Graduate Research Assistant, Dept. of Mining & Geological Engineering, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He walked me through his research on acid mine drainage and it applications in Alaska. See his paper in the proceedings.
Once you have some skills (of almost any sort) and want to make your way into the mining industry or those companies that supply and support the mining industry, I suggest you prepare your resume and take it around personally to the human resources officer of the mine or support companies where you would like to work. Dress well, be polite, and maybe a little pushy and persistent, and do whatever it takes to get an interview.
I well recall doing this myself. I got the interview. But I lost courage as I was overwhelmed by the intimidating acres of glass, brass, and marble that covered the walls and floor as I crept nervous to the interview door. But somehow I got a job and was dispatched to the middle of the desert through which ran a large river and I was mining the tunnels beneath a new dam.
As always in any field of endeavor, word of mouth counts. The mining industry is a relatively small industry and people know each other. But how as a young entrant to the industry do you get to know them and get them to know you. The best suggestion is to do some voluntary work. Join the local museum that displays mining artifacts or join the local Red Cross and learn the basics of first aid and CPR. Ask the mine’s human resources or community relations personnel and they will help with ideas and suggestions.
Keep in mind that your resume has to go through the human resource officer. At least in the United States companies are required by law to keep a record of applicants and to demonstrate compliance with equal employment opportunity legislation. That job falls to the human resources officer. If you like dealing with people and maybe have a flare for regulations, the job of human resources officer at the mine might be the one for which you ultimately aim.
If there is no mine close enough for you to drop off your resume in person, there is sure to be a computer in the local library that links to a web site that specializes in mining employment opportunities in your area. Just find the right one, and follow the steps. But keep in mind there is no substitute for appearing in person.
A final word of advice to the new entrant: you do not have to be skilled in technical things. There are many jobs in mining that demand a liberal arts education. The best example is community relations. Some of the longest-haired hippies I have known have worked happily and productively in this branch of mining.
The Human Resources Manager is the professional that will decide the firstly the whether there is a requirement to hire, and ultimately what kind of people the company seeks. The Human Resources Manager works to make sure all company policies are followed consistently, that all Federal and State Labour laws are correctly followed and work to have a positive company image in the community and business climate. In addition they would assist in the training and development of all employees, interview prospective employees, coordinate benefit programs and mediate grievance cases. In larger organisations it may not be able but if at all possible, this is the person that needs to be contacted directly. They may not have the time to deal with you personally, but they could pass you down to a subordinate who is much more likely to consider you if the boss asks them to "take care of this".
There are many ways to get a job in mining. One is by word-of-mouth: your friends tell you of a good job that is going begging or your friends tell prospective employees of your skills-you get the job.
Second is by way of those many web sites that post resumes and jobs: you post your resume and hope like hell that an employer with jobs notices your resume, calls you, interviews you, and employs you. Seldom happens, but many do it, at vain expense! Then you can engage and seek. You go to those career sites that list jobs. The jobs that are posted may be put on the site by employees looking for staff. Or they may be culled from the web and collated into an accessible format. Either way, you them have to post off your resume and hope it hits the desk of a smart person who is intelligent enough to see between the lines and realize that you are skilled & experienced and can do the job they need done. Pretty slim are the chances of this route producing a high salary at a real mine. But many do it, for they are short of cash and believe in self-help.
Then you can seek out the services of a headhunter, Call them up, tell them what you can do, tell them the types of job you seek in mining, and let them at it.
So you have worked in logging or farming or another heavy industry and employment conditions have changed and now you need to start afresh and mining seems like a possibility. There are parallels jobs in the mining industry to almost all the jobs that are being lost in the resource industries. I hardly need list them: but here are some in alphabetical order as they come to mind (and I prompt my mind by recalling the nicest people I have known in the mining industry): accountant, bookkeeper, cook, driver, electrician, fitter, geologist
, human resource officer, instrument technician, journeyman, legal secretary
, machinist, nurse, office clerk, photographer
–and so on.
To find a job you need, do very much as you did to get your first job: resume, human resources officer, and interview. You know how to do it. Also you need to consult the many web sites that list jobs in the mining industry in you area or specialization. You probably know these better than I do.
Keep in mind that mining is not only the big pit with the large waste dumps. Maybe the local quarry or gravel pit is your best bet for an easy morning commute.
So you are lucky enough to have a job in the mining industry already. Then I need hardly tell you what you can do in the industry. But you want another job for anyone of the many reasons that prompt us to move.
I have moved for more money, for a better climate, and simply because of some instinctive urge to keep moving. Makes no difference: my advice is to post your resume on Infomine or one of our many competitors’ sites. This will cost you, but it is well worth the money.
Maybe get in touch with a headhunter—most are desperate to build up lists of people looking for a job. I still get regular calls for these folk. Two of the best jobs I ever had came as a result of calls from headhunters, so I have much respect for them and their skills and always give them my time even if only in the hopes that it will help somebody else get their dream job. In fact maybe headhunting is one of the jobs you or the youth entering the mining market may aspire to—they all seem to make lots of money.
If you have the time and the patience go onto the web site specializing in your area and look up the postings for new jobs. Go to conferences and mingle with the crowd for word of mouth is important is you area already part of the industry. If you cannot get to a conference, call your trusted friends and colleagues on other mines and ask them where the new jobs are.
The basic principles of responsible mining dictate that mining companies employ the locals.
Growing up on a mine in South Africa and studying law at the University of the Whitewater, I never thought I would read anything like the follow definition from the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002. It needs no comment other than its noting and the thought that it may be a model for other countries:
"Broad based economic empowerment means a social or economic strategy, plan, principle, approach, or act which is aimed at:
- Redressing the results of past or present discrimination based on race, gender or other disabilities of historically disadvantaged persons in the minerals and petroleum industry, related industries and in the value chain of such industries;
- Transforming such industries so as to assist in, provide for, initiate or facilitate:
- the ownership, participation in or the benefiting from existing or future mining, prospecting, exploration or
production operations; the participation in or control of such operations;
- the participation in or control of such operations;
- the development of management, scientific, engineering or other skills of historically disadvantages persons;
- the involvement of or participation in the procurement chains of operations;
- the ownership of and participation in the beneficiation of the proceed of the operations or other upstream or downstream value chains in such industries;
- the socio-economic development of communities immediately hosting, and affected by the supplying of labor to the operations;
- the socio-economic development of all historically disadvantaged South Africans from the proceeds or activities of operations.
In Canada as in most other countries, preference is given to what are termed in Australia and Canada, the aboriginal peoples.
Similarly in Spain, and Peru, and Chile, and Arizona, and Virginia. There are programs that give preference to the people and peoples who live in the area of the mine. The laws and agreements and opportunities are specific to each mine, locality, and country. I can only recommend discussions with your community leaders who will know more of local conditions and commitments than I do.
Women in Mining
My favorite example is Amanda Wasserman
. She started her career in 1991, specializing in security, surveillance, and CCTV control room operations. She spent several years recruiting and training surveillance CCTV operators and then opened her own security company, ISASA Security Training
focusing on the southern African diamond mines. She has just formalized a contract with the Angolan Catoca diamond mine, the fourth largest diamond mine in the world (by production volume). In addition to the setup and implementation of control room policy and procedures, ISASA Security Training will train over thirty staff in CCTV operator’ skills, observations skills, supervisory and investigative training.
Susan (not her real name) is calm and motherly, and looks as though she should be knitting for grandchildren. Her career, however, is Mineral Landman. She refuses the title Landlady, or Landperson as historically incorrect and sexist. What does a Mining Landsman do? As far as I can tell, she travels the county and achieves great things for exploration geologists and miners. To be more specific here is her own description of what she does.
I am a Mineral Landman with 33 years experience. I am a mineral title specialist. I research title to the minerals in fee lands, patented mining claims, and unpatented mining claims--whatever lands the geologist is interested in; untangle complicated title problems, whether multiple overlapping unpatented mining claims or from a hundred years of recorded documents; handle title curative, such as preparing deeds, affidavits, releases of leases, etc., or arranging for probates; lay out claim-staking projects, manage the claim-staking crew, prepare the notices of location, record and file with the BLM; and handle the annual BLM filings for a number of mining companies. I have worked for mining companies or law firms, and have been an independent consultant, as I am now. Some assignments take a day; some take nine months; some take years (I once spent 3 years in Cripple Creek, Colorado). I interface with geologists, government officials, mining engineers, and landowners. I have taken my turn as weekend supervisor of an active gold-mining operation, have done quite a bit of public speaking and have written or been co-author of several papers.
Now that is impressive!
Lise Thompson runs 1984 Enterprises Inc. She is fast and energetic, committed and passionate, and convinced that safety is first in the mining industry. She and her staff will write the health and safety plan for your exploration field work, they will get you the permits to drill, they will train you and your helpers manning the exploration rigs and camps, and they will maintain your health and safety records. This is a great service, and there is no parallel anywhere else that I am aware of. To be more specific, here is how they describe themselves:
1984 Enterprises Inc. has 27 years of experience in Mining, Mineral Exploration, Forestry & Construction sites supplying Safety, Staffing and First Aid. Their staff; Occupational Health and Safety Officers, Industrial First Aid Attendants, Registered Nurses, Administrative and Kitchen Support Staff are certified and accredited to meet cross National regulatory agencies Safety and First Aid requirements. Certifications are accepted and not limited to the Workplace Compensation Boards Mines Division agencies (WCB), Occupational Health and Safety agencies (OH&S), Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité du Travail (CSST). All staff members are orientated to your Site-Specific Safety Program ® and corporate policies.
Here are extracts from two web sites that speak for themselves—and beautifully illustrate the role for two successful women in mining:
- Pamela Strand's Shear Minerals Ltd. and its partners on the Churchill play in Nunavut continue to come up with kimberlite pipes, seemingly with ease. The latest finds bring the kimberlite count to nine, over a fairly wide area, adding to the expectations that there are a number of kimberlite clusters, or one mammoth one, in the area just north of Rankin Inlet. Ms. Strand worked for exploration companies through her university years, but she took a job with the federal government as a district geologist based in Yellowknife in the early 1990s. She moved on a few years later, but the mid-1990s were a busy and exciting time for diamond exploration in the region, and that whetted Ms. Strand's appetite for gems. Her husband was transferred to Edmonton in 1997, but interesting rocks seemed few and far between in Alberta at the time, and Ms. Strand kept her focus on northern diamonds. She struck out on her own with Pinnacle Resources (1996) Ltd., a mineral property broker, which subsequently sold some diamond prospects as a major transaction for a Don Planche cash shell, which subsequently became Shear, with Ms. Strand running things.
- Eira M. Thomas graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science in Geology in 1990, and is a respected Canadian geologist who brings extensive experience to her position as Director of Strongbow Exploration Inc. She is President, CEO and Director of Stornoway Diamond Corporation, the strongest Canadian owned, premier diamond exploration company in Canada, with interests in more than 20 million acres of prospective diamond properties situated in northern Canada. Ms. Thomas served as a geologist with Aber Resources Ltd. (now Aber Diamond Corporation) from 1992 to 1997, leading the field exploration team that discovered the Diavik Diamond Project pipes the Northwest Territories in 1994 and 1995. She was promoted to Vice-President Exploration for Aber in 1997, a post she held for two years. She remains a director of Aber Diamond Corporation which holds a 40 per cent interest in Diavik, Canada's second diamond mine, which went into production in 2003 and is expected to produce 8.2 million carats in 2004. Aber Diamond Corporation recently purchased a 51% interest in world-renown luxury jeweler and watch retailer Harry Winston.
As always there are web sites for every interest; here are some:
From my own personal experience in the mining industry at least fifty percent of my clients are women. . Most are chemical and process engineers, but they are successful in the mining industry and they pay me plenty to help them continue successful. I admire them and I do and would do anything they asked. For as a consultant, my first professional obligation is to make my client a success, and it is so much more a pleasure to do this when the client is a woman of intelligence, power, and decisiveness.
Before there is a mine, there are the multi-disciplinary teams who go out and find the ore body and prove that it is worth developing a mine. Most jobs these days are in the exploration side of mining. People such as geologists, geophysicists, first aid personnel, drillers, and the many others who set up and maintain the camps where they live and work are in demand. So if you like the outdoors and those clear days and towering mountains maybe you should get in on the start by looking to be part of the exploration team. Here are sites to visit to get more information about what the people who find the ore bodies and enjoy the benefits of the open air doing mining:
If you seek a career of excitement, independence, and the gamble of a fortune lost or gained, establish a Junior Mining Company--or go work for one. The best example I have encountered is the young Canadian Frenchman who found the Eleonore deposit, now in the Goldcorp stable. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He burst with pride as he told me how he found the deposit. Let me share it with you:
"It was spring. I was walking along the bedrock just besides the water. The snow was melting and there were patches of clean, hard rock just emerging from winter. The sun was shining. I looked at an outcrop. There was gold in it. It looked just like the conglomerate you find in South Africa. I stopped, taken aback. This was the right geology, but this was the first time I saw the classic type. I broke off a piece and hastened back to Quebec City. Then we drilled and drilled. We proved sufficient resources. And now the property is up for auction. If we get a good price, I will buy me a BMW". He sold it to Goldcorp and I am sure he bought a BMW.
That is the nature of working with a Junior Mining Company, it takes a ruggedness and individuality few of us possess, but the people who run these companies are the people in mining I admire most.
Not generally associated with the mining industry, but a Marine Engineer can often be found out on his boat navigating a tailings pond. There is definitely no ocean in Fort McMurray but I have been to the headquarters of those who go out on the tailings impoundments on boats. These are the engineers who are tasked to deal with studying the tailings at depth, and must venture out in those rickety boats to do their jobs. Thus they are mariners.
Wild Life Biologist
The Wild Life Biologist is also a feature on the mines of today. At first impression his position may be more akin to a PR role but these professionals play a very important part on the mines, many of which are in remote areas where wildlife frequently strays from its habitats to the mine lease. I once met a young Wild-Life Biologist whose major job was managing the thousands of cannons that ring the tailings ponds and go off regularly to scare away water birds. But his most exciting tasks involve dealing with the some forty bears that currently wander the site. Apparently recent fires in the area have forced the bears to congregate on the mine site.
"They get to know me," he says. "The first time I make a loud noise to scare them off, they run away. But they become habituated to me. They move off twenty feet or so when they see me get out of the truck, but they no longer believe in the noises I make."
The smarter bears who learn to open the bear-proof garbage cans have to be trapped. "It's up to Fish and Wild Life to decide what to do with the bears I trap".His shining memory is of pulling a deer out of a silt pond and over six hours cleaning her, giving her water from his hard hat, and massaging her limbs until she was able to rise, wonder off, and resume grazing.
The richest mining geologist I know told me how he got his money in a French-Canadian accent as we flew over the desolate land east of St. James Bay. Here is his story. Desperate for a job as a newly-minted graduate, he joined a fledgling exploration company. Unable to pay him a market wage in cash, they offered him a salary part in cash and part in shares. For six summers he followed glacier tracks. His heart skipped each time he saw a pebble or bolder bearing gold. But he could not find the source. Then in the seventh summer after a winter plotting glacial movements, he saw the bare rock at the surface: Archean conglomerates glistening in the sun. Glory turned to gory through more seasons of drilling and core-logging to confirm his convictions. The happy ending to this story is the sale of the property and his own share value increase. What will you do now, I asked. Get married, buy a house, have a baby, and then go back into the field every summer and dream of open spaces in the winter, was his reply.
What else does a mining geologist do? What else is of interest to a mining geologist? To answer these questions, here is a list from the Australian site for BFP:
- Geological mapping, logging, database preparation and geological interpretation
- Preparation of drilling contracts and supervision of drilling contractors
- Exploration program management
- Computerized resource and reserve estimations
- Resource and reserve audits
- Assessment and valuation of tenements
- Structural geology and exploration
Over a span of nearly forty years consulting to the mining industry, I have worked with many mining engineers. On the basis of long experience, I can say with confidence that mining engineers spend most of their time in meetings, listening to consultants and staff and making hard decisions about the mine they work for or manage.
When they are not in meetings, the mining engineers that I have known drive around the open pit, or descend the underground workings where they walk around to see if things are going as they should. And if things are not going as they should, they talk (mostly) to the people who are supposed to be making things go properly and the mining engineers remind them of their duty and the consequences of failing to live up to their duty.
Sometimes the mining engineers leave the mine and go to the office building in some distant city where the head office is located. There they meet with even more senior mining engineers, accountants, and lawyers to discuss the legal and financial operation of the mine they manage back home. Then they go to a fine restaurant for supper and a night in an expensive hotel to fly back, first-class, to the mine the next day.
I do not wish to imply by this brief overview of the daily life of the average mining engineer that their work is easy. For the variety and challenge lies in the diversity of topics and issues the mining engineer will face each day in those meetings and round-the-mine travels. Today the mining engineer will be faced with a decision to purchase or not to purchase land next to the mine where there may or may not be additional ore to expand the mine. The next day the mining engineer will be asked by the chief exploration geologist for an increase in budget to enable more drilling to be undertaken on the land that was purchased the day before.
That afternoon the permitting department will demand additional staff to negotiate the permits for off-site drilling and disposal of the resulting muds from the drill rig. The health and safety officer will be insisting that the necessary health and safety plans are not in place and that new work be put on hold until the necessary documents are approved.
The next day the topic of the meeting is a shortage of equipment to expand pit operations to the projected high-grade zone. Then a meeting on dwindling capacity in the tailings impoundment and the cost of expanding the impoundment or using the old worked-out open pit. That leads to a full-scale review of operating budgets with the planners and accountants just arrived on site from head office. They are under instructions from the directors to increase profit by cutting expenses; none of the mill managers or equipment operators can see the sense of this, for they all need new equipment to replace the old stuff.
To check if the mill superintendent really does need new equipment, the mining engineer takes a trip to the mill. He has never really understood the intricacies of this mill and he knows the mill super is smarter than he is and has been around a lot longer. They banter good-naturedly for a while. They walk around the equipment which all seems unrusted and humming. Production numbers are steady; the preventive maintenance program is functional. The equipment replacement costs are huge, and the mill super persuasive. The mine manager knows what to do: kick the decision up to the head-office mechanical engineers. Let them take the fall or praise for wrong or right decisions and the need to find more money.
The mining engineers that I write of here, may have received their degree at Colorado State University, Queens, the University of British Columbia, or one of the other few places that still award mining engineering degrees to a small cadre of students. They will have studied, like most engineers, basic maths, physics, chemistry, and calculus. Then a few courses in basic mining theory: what makes an underground mine; the essence of open pits; basic blasting theory; and maybe a bit of finance and accounting. Maybe a short course on environmental studies, social policy, sustainable propaganda, and community relations.
The mining engineering student would have helped out at a few conferences where professors and consultants market to each other via papers based on case histories and ideas recirculated from decades past. The student will have met the leaders of industry and recruiting agents for big and mid-sized mining companies. Well before graduation, the offers would have come in. Salaries of from $65K to $100 K depending on the size of mine, the personality of the student, academic record, and remoteness of mine site. The best students would have been flown first class to Nevada and the mine of choice, put up in a fine hotel in Toronto, and promised car and first month of rent on an apartment. Thus the entry into the mining work place.
Let us call her Linda. She graduated as a mining engineer in Australia. She met and married her husband at university where he did a masters in mine planning and operation. She preferred the work face: into water-proof clothes, down the shaft, through the mud to the drills and rock. I met her at a mine in the far north of Canada to which she and her husband were transferred. She was then chief mining engineer and had to guide me and her underlings through upper management review of a decision to expand the tailings facility. She was beautiful, smart, and very demanding. We always prepared thoroughly for meetings with her, for she could bore down into the details faster than any other person that I have ever met.
Yet she was kind and gentle. When we were ready to present to upper management, she grilled us and made us practice until we were word perfect. Then she would introduce us to the assembled finance committee and support us to success. I readily admit that it was her skilled judgment about what to say and what to leave out that led us to win every budget battle and get senior management approval for all our proposals.
Now she and her husband are in London, England at company headquarters and I am told that she is guiding the making of multi-million dollar decisions each day. I can believe that, for she has the skill. Her husband is still in a back engineering office planning new mines and avoiding the spotlight.
There are generally few mining engineers at a mine. There are sure to be more mechanical, chemical, and civil engineers than mining engineers at a typical mine. For there is a lot more mechanical, chemical, and civil work than mining work to be done at the typical mine. The mining engineer however is the boss, the mine manager, the chief mine planner, the executive officer, the primary decision maker. The mining engineer aims to leave the management of the mine to a younger souls and move up the ladder to head office, there to buy and sell mines, negotiate deals, and set budgets and schedules.
Some mining engineering graduates go on to do a masters degree—and then go into consulting, for a masters is the working degree of consulting to the mining industry. And if you are a mining engineer without a masters but about ten years practical experience at mines, you too can come to the city to work for a consultant. I have worked with mining engineers in consulting who design the underground workings or layout the new open pit mine. They run computer codes that simulate material movements, calculate operating costs, and schedule repairs. They use computer codes to calculate slope stability, quantify overburden stripping ratio, and hence establish the economics of an ore body in a cold northern land.
A month ago, I sat in a tall glass building in Santiago, in a cool room of expensive finishes. The consultant mining engineers presented fifty slides on the cost estimate for a new mine to be brought into production in 2020. The consultants had reviewed three previous cost estimates made by other consultants in the past five years and had sought to bring precision and accuracy to the wildly varying previous estimates. The new consultants spent twenty minutes on the issue of the daily cost to feed a worker at the fly-in, fly-out camp. At least one mining engineer had spent the past month researching this issue.
We civil engineers then botched things up. We presented brief, detail-less slides telling that the cost of tailings disposal would exceed $2 billion. “Do you have detail for that?” the client’s mining engineers asked. “Not really,” the reply. “For the cost depends on so many things out of our control, and in the control of you the mining engineer, that we thought it best for you to do it.” The mining engineering consultants jumped at the chance and are still working on this one as far as I know.
The point is that mining engineers span the range from the most detailed oriented to the highest, big-picture thinkers. As in all branches of engineering, there are the creators, the dreamers, the idealists, the philosophers, the soldiers, the warriors, the workers, those who inspire, those who manage, those who lead and those who follow.
Some work in the dust of the veldt, in the heat of the desert, in the snow & cold of the north, in the rain of the tropics, and in dangerous and remote places. Some prefer the delights of big cities, rapid transit, impossibly high rents, and school costs, and the comfort of multi-stories, air-condition towers. Some like the gray, cool stone of research universities. Some like the hustle of organizing conferences and competing as academics with honest consultants.
Some write books, some write EduMine courses, some churn out academic papers on socially responsible mining and sustainable development. Some go work for investment firms where they use advanced statistics to pick potential stock winners and losers.
Some found their own junior mining companies. With geologists, they find new ore bodies, engage drillers, write press releases, list stocks, encourage investors, skim a few dollars, and succeed or fail as the market fluctuates in response to Chinese demand. Some junior mining company mining engineers go bankrupt. Some go on to fortunes, when they sell out to a mid-sized company. They thrill to the trek into the forest, and peering through a magnifying glass at visible gold in a core specimen. They thrill to the sound of a drill rig echoing in the canyon, the thud of a box of new core, and the geologist’s remarks on grubby paper: ore heavy with silver.
Some mining engineers prefer the three martini lunch with rich investors come from European and Arab capitals. They thrill to the haggle of money invested, dividends promised, the daily movement of share price, the speculation of the take-over bid, and the large check that quantifies the gamble and its success. They wear pin-striped suits of impeccable cut set off by ties of silk and high price. They pity their cousins in torn jeans, T-shirt, steel-toed boots, and the dust of a hot land rover somewhere in an African country. Certainly they would not change places one with the other.
I have never met a mining engineer working for a regulatory agency. Admittedly there are some in MSHA, OSHA, and other Washington agencies overseeing the USA mining industry. Their work is critical to mine safety, and their publications (which I read avidly) are impeccable and impressive. These are a small part of the mining engineering fraternity. They prove the immense diversity of mining engineering pursuits and endeavors. They demonstrate that if you choose to study mining engineering that is only the beginning. Once graduated there is an infinite variety of opportunities out there just waiting for you to choose one or more lifestyle that suites your instincts, interests, abilities, and life-style choices.
Keep in mind that you do not have to study mining engineering to enter the mining industry. You could become a civil engineer and develop mining infrastructure: the roads, bridges, shafts, structures, and tailings facilities that are key to mining. You could become a mechanical engineer: manage the shovels, the trucks, the crushers, and spreaders, and the pipes and pumps of the mine. You could become a chemical, process, or metallurgical engineer and oversee extraction of minerals from the ore. Or become an environmental engineer and take care of air quality, surface water and groundwater quality and all the other potential impacts of a mine on its surroundings.
Lawyers and accountants, human resource professionals, and health and safety specialists are needed at the mine. If you like working with people and communities, study community relations and then go mining. All of these professions bring personal and financial rewards at mines far and near.
As a mining engineer, you may have to lead and manage all these professionals. In addition you will have to deal with labor unions, politicians, NGOs, terrorists who would burn down your core shack, and journalists come to write sensational stories of the impact of the mine on native peoples. You will have to be the face of the mine and the mining industry in the community. You will have to open schools and hospitals, attend sports events, and give presentations at learned conferences.
You as a mining engineer will travel far and wide. You will work in Africa, Australia, Nevada, Chile, and the cold parts of Sweden and the Yukon. You will move your family often and your wife and children will attend many schools and learn many languages. You will be part of a small, but international community. You will meet at the SME conferences in western cities of the USA. You will share stories of hardship, challenges overcome, of mines opened and closed, of political movements and environmental forces that are even now changing the way we see and implement mining.
You will thrill to elections and the appointment of a new EPA administrator. You will fight law cases to the Supreme Court to get the permits you need to open a new mine and close an old one. You will travel the wilds of Spain and the places where they have mined gold for 2,000 years as you seek to get community support to reopen an old Roman mine and provide jobs to but 400 of 4,000 applicants thrown out of work by crazy German bankers intent on cutting national budgets. You will have to articulate the benefits of mining to native groups who believe fish transcend profit; to historians who value ruins over new mills; to the rich who live around big copper deposits and do not want their retirement homes impacted by heavy equipment.
In the next twenty years, as a mining engineer, you will have to redefine how we go about mining: do we only high grade and filter press the tailings to dry stacks? Do we avoid sensitive areas and only operate in remote deserts? Do we desalinate sea water to make mining possible in deserts where people would rather not live, or do we undertake perpetual water treatment in wet climates that are getting warmer by the year and subject to bigger and bigger storms and flood? Do we reopen historic mines in Spain and Romania where unemployment is rife? Or do we go to the Amazon and Zambia and deal with tyrants in Zimbabwe and South Africa who would nationalize our finds and our mines created by long education and hard work?
For the future of mining is not a repeat of the old ways. If we are to prosper as societies, we need to mine in new ways. And the future of mining and the benefits of civilization depend on the ideas and skills of mining engineers yet to be educated. I am optimistic. For I have children and grandchildren who reject my opinions and prejudices. So too I am privileged to work with young engineers who reject my ways and perspective. They and you, as a young mining engineer, will have to overthrow all that we know and do, and reinvent the world to make it possible for future generations to go on, survive, enjoy material benefits, and protect the world that is all we have and can pass on. Go mining and other engineering.
The Tailings Team
The tailings team is a muti-disciplinary team which incompases many trades and professions involved in the design, operation, and closure of a facility. One profession that you won't find on this list is that of an actual "Tailings Engineer" as there is no such recognised course on offer. Interestingly the issue of this lack of a university or technical college trained Tailings Engineer arose at the Tailings & Mine Waste Conference 2011 which I managed to attend. It was brought up by the keynote speaker Sean Wells of Suncor Energy who believed there was a need for a profession to bridge the gap between the "in pipe" tailings (realm of the process engineer), and the final dried tailings (soil) where the geotechnical engineer steps in. It remains to be seen whether the educational institutions take up this challenge.
In the absense of a Tailings Engineer, here are a list of some of the people who step in:
- Civil Engineer: The jack-of-all trades who knows how to control the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. The civil engineer comes in many flavors: the structural engineer who designs the penstocks; the hydraulics person who knows surface water; and the soils engineer who understands effective stresses.
- Chemical Engineer: The expert in chemistry who tells us of the chemical reactions needed to liberate the ore and hence create the tailings.
- Environmentalist: The committed who seek to protect the environment from degradation by the vast new terraform that will inevitably change the environment.
- Geotechnical Engineer: The person who has studied how to describe soils for engineering purposes; to arrange laboratory testing to measure soil's properties like strength and compression; to calculate slope stability, erosion, and settlement; and to deal with seepage from the tailings.
- Geologist: The person who knows the rocks, the soils, the groundwater, and the way these all respond to new forces and constituents emanating from the tailings stack.
- Geomorphologist: Defines the way the forces of nature will control the changes in both the short and long term of the landscape and hence make for a stable or unstable facility.
- Geochemist: A person who understand both chemistry and soils and rocks. Their products are long tables of chemicals and how they will lead to pollution or prevent pollution by inducing chemical changes from malignant to benign.
- Hydraulics Engineer: Usually a civil engineer who revels in surface water and the design and performance of streams, channels, ditches, and spillways filled with raging waters.
- Hydrologist: A geologist or engineer who looks around, sees the geology, puts in wells, and instinctively knows where the groundwater flows and how its flow will be changed by the new earth structure called a tailings facility.
- Instrument Technician: Invaluable folk who can install instruments to measure pore pressure, deformation, deflection, load, and the earthquake when it inevitable hits the site.
- Mining Engineer: The person who is ultimately in charge. If they are wise they will take lots of the tailings and put it back underground. They have a way of producing more ore and more waste as they years pass by and hence they are always the start of another study of how to increase the size of a small tailings dam that was designed originally to serve a smaller mine.
- Operator: The person who can make a bad design work and who can make sure that a good design turns to a disaster. They are skilled, unskilled, dedicated, hard-working, get all the blame and seldom the praise that is their due. The operator is the valuable person who work hard in sun, rain, snow, heat, and blistering cold to place the pipes, turn the valves, direct the flow, and otherwise make it possible to mine in all seasons.
- Process Engineer: Generally the mine employee client who is responsible for the tailings. The process engineer is in charge of the mill and the tailings are but the waste of the mill. The process engineer seldom knows or cares about tailings as a profession, and so is apt to pass day-to-day control to the unsuspecting, be it an operator, a consultant, or a new hire
- Vegetation Specialist: The eternal optimist who thinks they can grow anything in anything. Occasionally they succeed but only at the expense of topsoil, mulch, fertilizers, and many failures including the inevitable fires that destroy a life's work in a few moments. They have to be good at selling the incredible and ignoring what is going on around the site in spite of them.
Every mining magazine features a new article on new big trucks. There is more information on mining magazines on big mining trucks than any sane person needs, wants, or can absorb.
Admittedly those pictures of big trucks are sexy. The raw power of metal hurtling down a dusty road is enough to excite most men, and not a few women. You can understand why the below-average photographer, given a choice, elects to photograph the truck rather than the wetland or the rock slope. It is so much easier to get a shot of a big truck and it is so much easier to make it look interesting.
I suspect that magazines use all those photos of big mining trucks because the truck manufacturers do a good job of supplying the photos free. Mining magazine journalists and editors are as lazy a bunch as any, and given free copy by an activist manufacturer, they are suckers every time. And we are the poor victims of this unholy cycle of photos and self-promotion.
I can live with this excess of photos and editorial on big trucks in mining magazines. At least it is one more article I can skip. At least it is one more page I can turn quickly without delay. At least my conscience is clear that I am not missing anything relevant and interesting. Another magazine rapidly bound for the garbage dump.
But there is an aspect to the big truck photo scourge that we do not talk about. I refer to the folk who drive those big trucks. When last did you see a picture of a truck driver? When last did you read a decent profile of an honorable truck driver?
I confess that I do not know any mine truck drivers. I confess that I have never even tried to write adequately about them. I know the driver of one of those big cross-country trucks. From him I know that truck drivers are as diverse as the population; but mostly they are honorable and incredibly skilled. He has about him a calm patience bred of unending hours speeding across the interstate hauling goods for our benefit.
Some time in early 2008 I posted a blog piece on mining truck drivers in Australia. That piece has become an all-time favorite. Currently is gets about 30 to 50 hits a day, and it has attracted sad and insightful comments.
To summarize the blog posting: InfoMine received an e-mail from a lady in Australia who noted that in spite of being trained, her boyfriend could not get a job as a truck driver. I commented that in spite of the innumerable magazine stories about a shortage of workers for the mining industry, I believed that the issue of the so-called shortage of workers is just something that is made up by journalist with nothing else to write about.
Many have commented on this blog posting, and all seem to agree: in spite of being trained, they cannot find jobs as truck drivers on mines in Australia. I wonder if the same is true of other places.
A quick Google search with keywords “truck driver jobs mining” brings up the usual job sites. No insight there. But I found a number of sites that list reasons why maybe it is so difficult to find a job as a mine truck driver. Here are a few:
HoganMining notes the easy work and high salaries that make for intense competition for the jobs there are:
Mine companies commonly use large trucks to move materials around on a mine site. A person who operates this type of truck is commonly referred to as a Dump Truck Driver. Working as a Dump Truck Driver is a very rewarding job and is not physically demanding as other jobs in this line of work can be. Many mining companies offer salaries upwards of $100,000 a year.
ArticleClick notes the easy work and competition from all sectors of the population:
Although dump trucks are massive pieces of machinery, they are relatively simple to operate. Therefore people from all different backgrounds are able to gain a position as a dump truck driver. There are no age or gender restrictions. More and more frequently, women are being hired by mining companies to fill dump truck driving positions. Mining companies realize the benefits of hiring women as they tend to have good safety records and minimize repairs costs.
GoWestNow realistically hits hard on the fact that like all professions, truck driving is a closed shop:
Gaining employment in the mining industry is not as easy as some people may think. While the demand for people is very strong, so is the need for skills and experience. Mining companies generally do not employ people who have not worked in this sector before.
There you have it: like all walks of life, it is what you know and more important who you know. It helps if you are prepared to go west, work hard, and live frugal. And avoid the photographer and the article-writing journalist.
I also seek to describe a job in mining that most do not write about. Most mines have a place where the miners eat. There are many experiences of various mines that could be told through the telling of the many fine meals we have enjoyed in these mining canteens. I will tell but one, "I went to the Cannery at Greens Creek, Alaska. We ate like kings. We ate salmon and halibut, two fish I had not hitherto heard of. The Bull-Cook at the Cannery was Anita. We never learnt her surname. But how can you ever forget her flaming red hair and her erratic energy? While we went out drilling, she went out fishing in Hawk Inlet. She caught salmon and halibut which she cooked fresh for the evening meal. Vast meals of the finest food I have ever had—Anita is still my best cook". My point is that cooking for miners is an important job. You will prepare food that we will remember forever. You will prepare food that makes a miners lives OK or not. You are part of the essential services that make foreign travel to distant mines memorable and inviting. If you can cook, Go for it.
My favorite California drinking partner is a lawyer who has worked exclusively on mining issues. He knows more of many mines than many a miner, and he can argue about mining rights with passion. I like and respect his judgment: neither of us cares for bagels at breakfast, and many a good meal of bacon and eggs and heavy coffee we have had while bewailing the poor folk confined to chewy dough and sliced salmon. A description of the role of lawyers in mining is at the Infomine Technology Site LawMine.
There I explore the full range of services the lawyer provides to the mining industry.
One word regarding law and mines. Go to the many sites telling you about the Canadian Bill C45. It imposes specific health and safety requirements and liabilities on many mining-related activities. I wish I could discuss this bill with my Californian lawyer but he too busy and environmental issues at US mines.
The Human Resources Department
Human Resource Departments in mining environments are dynamic and busy places. They can involve high turnovers of people, with a diverse skillset and thus capable human resources people are highly desired. For people who wish to rise in the HR department, a college degree in Psychology, Sociology, Human Resource or a related field would an advantage. Helpful High School courses include English, Speech and Computer Science. From a job description for a mine's human resources officer, come a description of what a typical HR manager does:
"The successful candidate will provide comprehensive Human Resources support to assigned areas, covering various human resource functions including: advises employees and managers regarding Phelps Dodge human resources policies and procedures, handles personnel/employment issues, personnel documentation, compensation and benefits administration, develops and implements recruitment strategies for hard-to-fill exempt, non-exempt and production openings within the site/functional area, conducts preliminary selection processes (critiquing, screening and testing applicants) for employment, assists in the development and presentation of employee training in human resources and general management issues, contribute to the development or recommendation for new and/or enhanced human resources policies and procedures, internal consulting with all levels of the organization, heavy involvement in internal problem solving processes, conduct position audits an analysis, may conduct new hire orientation and exit interviews and other duties as required."
Many mines and mining companies post information about their HR departments and HR practices on their websites. Here are some of interest:
Health Safety Professionals (First Aid Attendants, Nurses and Doctors)
If you have a bent for medicine, first aid attendants, nursing, or the health and safety aspect
of life, and maybe would like to be part of the modern move to reduce the accidents that make the news, you should consider applying your interests and talents in the health and safety
part of the mining industry.
The health and safety personnel were the heroes of the mine on which I grew up. My father came home and would spend a whole family meal telling of their bravery and determination in saving somebody. He hated sitting and learning, but he willingly submitted to their courses and was proud when he got a badge denoting completion of first aid training. I too have benefited from the many first aid and CPR courses I have done. One fine evening as I danced a waltz in the arms of a beautiful woman, the old fellow besides me who was waltzing with an even more beautiful woman collapsed besides me. The strains of old Vienna faded as my brain raced to recall the basics if the CPR I administered until the paramedics arrived and young men took over.
Doctors do well on mines. My first girlfriend was the daughter of the mine doctor. They lived in the second biggest house on the mine (the mine manager was in the biggest). The house had five bedrooms and, for those days, an unheard of two bathrooms. Her father, the doctor, was a taciturn man, whose bedroom was sparse but shining from the constant polishing by many servants. His pipes were lined neatly along the shelf and the tobacco smell lingers yet in my memory. With so many rooms in the house, her mother had her own bedroom, an unspeakable luxury and indulgence in our circle—they were akin to royalty in a town where rooms were limited.
Our playground was the vast field south of the paper mill, around the doctor’s house and along the creek that meandered between the willows. With our simple bikes and the yapping dogs we spent many hours in the constant summer of youth exploring and learning. I suspect those waters that emanated in the mine that was the focus of our lives would today be considered contaminated but we were ignorant & innocent thereof
A key job in mining, from concept to closure, is the communications specialist. Other titles applied to this line of work in mining include: community relations specialist, public relations director, sustainable development officer, stakeholder interactions manager. The list is endless; it all boils down to the person charged with getting out there, talking to those who may support or oppose the mine, and dealing with those whose voice ultimately decides whether or not the mine proceeds
Properly done, mining can bring employment and money to an area. Local communities and their people may get work, training, income, and skills that can be used long after the mine is closed. These are positives of mining that at least may be put forward as benefits. Key to a communications effort that deals with a mine's waste disposal facilities is the person in charge of the communication.
My grandmother’s favorite grandchild was my brilliant and erratic cousin. He became a mine surveyor
. He lived with us during his training and I thrilled to the complexity of the finely-wrought instruments
he brought home and allowed me to touch under close supervision. Only later at university did I learn to use a theodolite and level and appreciate his skill in working 6,000 feet underground with these delicate instruments.
Today surveyors are still the elite of mining. They use newer instruments, computer codes, and put their information into systems with acronyms like GPS and GIS. The work is summarized and described precisely in the hyperlinks of these words.
A final note on my cousin: his father was a chemist on the mines in the town of Welkom and knew all about cyanide. He loved opera and I still have the recording of Rigoletto he bought my grandmother; but I have no way to play it now. The DVD suffices to bring back those happy Sunday afternoons as I translated Italian to English to the strains of Verdi and Gilda’s death.
He had a bright red 1980 Ford Mustang that he cleaned every Saturday. A slew of beautiful girls stood ready to go for a ride. But he waxed and polished and fawned over this magnificent machine, and ignored them. He is the only person I ever envied at University. He was studying to become a quantity surveyor. Only later did I learn that meant he was destined to spend his life putting together cost estimates for engineers and architects.
Before coming to the United States I would never have dared to put together a cost estimate. That was unprofessional. That work was reserved for quantity surveyors and they drove red sports cars while I puttered around in a gray Mini.
It would appear that Quantity Surveying as a profession began in London in 1868. Things have changed since then. Now the London group describes their activities thus: "Becoming a chartered surveyor is potentially one of the most exciting professions around. When they aren't creating the new Wembley Stadium, protecting the world's reefs, or laying pipelines on the sea bed, they are designing computer games and managing the layout of major music festivals." Confused? So am I.
The Canadian Institute of Quantity Surveyors began in 1959. They claim 1,300 members and say they are "the professional body that represents Quantity Surveying and Construction Estimating in Canada… and recognize members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Quantities Division), the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, the New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors and the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors as equivalent professional qualifications at the Associate level."
In the Arizona I was told to estimate the cost of the mine's new tailings impoundment. But where's the quantity surveyor I asked. The what, they answered throwing a green book and then a blue book at me and telling me to get going. In a sweat of professional panic I complied and found it relatively easy to do. And I have been doing it ever since. Now I own a red sports car that is even nicer than that 1980s Mustang.
Why no quantity surveyors in the United States? I liked this explanation:
When the Mayflower beached at Plymouth Bay in 1620 it is obvious there were no quantity surveyors on board. If any arrived afterwards, they must have all got dumped overboard at Boston along with the tea.
In 19th century Britain, as the Industrial Revolution was producing an ever increasing workload for the building industry, builders came to realize that they were duplicating a lot of effort by each measuring the same quantities from the architect's drawings in order to prepare their bids. The obvious answer was for them to get together and employ one person to measure the work and detail it in a book known as a Bill of Quantities. Then, each builder would price the work. The successful builder would pay the person who measured the quantities (and who became known as a Quantity Surveyor) and include the fee in his bid. Since the building owner or developer ended up paying for the quantity surveyor's services anyway, it finally dawned on them that they might as well employ him directly and get some cost advice as well.
The Quantity Surveyors and the Bill of Quantities were not confined to Britain. As the Empire grew and a lot of building work was required. Naturally, it was British expertise that was involved in designing and procuring those buildings.
The United States, despite its size and enormous construction programs, stubbornly refuse to consider the use of Bills of Quantities. Canada, although historically attached to Britain seems to have been influenced by its southern neighbor, because it also does not use Bills of Quantities.
Process Engineers and Technician
The most beautiful mine in the United States (in my opinion) soars the high hills of the Idaho Continental Divide. To reach the site, you drive for an hour through pristine forest, green in the summer, white in the winter. The black granite talus slopes plunge to the road as the truck veers and slides the mud and snow.
At 7,000 feet in the crystal air and cold sun, the mill and the process plant glisten. Inside is that chaos and cornucopia of metal, fluid, and noise. Calmly presiding over all this is Dave (not his real name), a thirty-something metallurgical engineer. He has a degree in metallurgical engineering and a master of business management (MBA) from Montana Tech. He lives in a Victorian house and leaves the quiet of the town for corporate deliberations in Reno and Las Vegas with misgiving. Last I communicated with him he was in Chile.
His daily round is meeting with the technicians and laborers who keep the plant operating, consultants who have the big ideas & bills, and regulators who are ever more demanding. He subscribes to Infomine and reads my technical articles so that he is, to use his words, “informed and ahead of those he must manage, control, and influence.”
He currently is seeking solutions to these issues: will reverse osmosis work; are wetlands effective in cold weather; why has that valve stuck again—should buy a new one; how do we justify next year’s budget; who will replace the guy who has just resigned; and so on.
Here is his description of his work and objectives: Combining desired efficiencies for low-cost production, managing persons from both a higher and lower management status, reaching compromise between the goals of the budget and operational desires, understanding, overseeing, and interpreting laboratory analysis to meet or improve upon desired cost, extraction, or regulatory compliance goals. Uncompromising compliance with environmental laws and safety, while pursuing production needs. My job is much more than technical knowledge, but involves combining technical knowledge with interpersonal relationship building, communication, cost management, and logistical management to achieve the desired end result
His technicians are a happy group. They willingly help me dig test pits, collect soil samples, ship drums of rock to out-of-state laboratories, plot contours on computers, collate reports, and find something to eat because I forgot to bring a lunch-pack. They take time off from their regular jobs of adjusting the mill and process equipment, replacing warn parts, dealing with vendors, and maintaining security systems in the lonely hills.
So you are an environmentalist? You believe we should conserve & recycle resources, clean up the air & groundwater, and limit the footprint of mines. Strange as it sounds, I believe the mining industry needs you too.
I encourage you to take a job on an operating mine, and put these principles into practice. If you cannot quite bring yourself to do this, then join a local regulatory agency overseeing the mines. I consulted to the U. S. EPA for three years helping them enforce environmental regulations. It was fascinating, frustrating, and satisfying. We did improve things. I believe that the essence of democracy and a civil society is the balance that results from the adversarial system inherent in the United States constitution, political system, and courts, and in the implementation of its laws and regulations.
As a regulator focusing on the mining industry you will carry a heavy societal responsibility. You will have to be more technically informed than the miners and their consultants, you will have to be more detailed oriented than those impatient to dig and bring the ore to the ground, and you will need a crystal vision of the long-term future as you approve a mine closure plan. You will need political skills to balance extreme demands, legal acumen to apply imprecise laws, and tact to say no. Good luck.
If you have stayed with me this far, you may be wondering what I did for mines. I am a civil engineer and sometime let people call me a geotechnical engineer
in recognition of the specialty that was my master’s degree. Here I survey the role that geotechnical engineers
play in mining.
The miner pulls the ore out of the ground. The process engineer gets the minerals out of the ore. The geotechnical engineer deals with the wastes of ore removal and mineral extraction. In addition, the geotechnical engineer provides the roads, the foundations, the ponds, and a host of other infrastructure facilities for the mine.
By way of overview, the presentation from the British Columbia Ministry of Mines and Energy is as good a summary of what the geotechnical engineer does for a mine as any I have seen. And here follows my description of the things I and my geotechnical engineering friend have done for mines.
- Access & Haul Roads. So obvious, it is trite to say, but to get to and around the mine you need access & haul roads. The geotechnical engineer locates, designs, and builds the roads. As a university lecturer I taught the course in pavement design. Then I became a consultant to the mining industry. I was sent to Jwaneng to find a site for the then new diamond mine in the deserts of Botswana. The access road was not even complete as the four-wheel drive ploughed the sands and we spied in the vast empty distance a black truck on the top of which stood a young man. As we approached he greeted us with a wave, and then enthusiasm; he had been one of my student two years before. What are you doing here, I asked. Building the mine access road which I designed, he replied. What do you know about road design, I asked. Everything I know I learnt from your lectures he cheekily replied. And so I went on my way along the new road, not entirely assured. How did that road hold up in the long term I wonder?
- Foundations. All mine buildings have foundations. Most often they do their job and nobody notices them. But sometimes they misbehave and cause problems. The baffled frustration of the canteen manager on the Natal coal mine still haunts me. I was there with a geochemist to try to ascertain why the mess haul was moving around like a later day jabba-the-hut. Many expensive laboratory test later we established that exposure to the moist air of the underground mine waste rock used as foundation fill was causing the fill to expand and lift up the building like loaf of warm baking bread.
- Dams and Sediment Ponds. The environmental scientist and surface water hydrologist are responsible for ensuring that the quality of the surface water leaving the mine site meets legal discharge criteria. The geotechnical engineer designs the sediment pond that controls the water before it leaves the mine. The biggest mine sediment pond I ever worked on was for a platinum mine where we designed an built a rock overflow dam to contain the remnants of the tailings that had escape a breach in the slimes dam.
- Tailings Impoundments & Waste Rock Dumps. A tailings impoundment and a waste rock dump are probably the largest and longest lasting legacies of a mine. From initial design through closure, the civil engineer is involved. For two years I clambered the sandstone cliffs of Washington State and slipped down the snow-cover banks where we building a 300-ft high embankment to hold the tailings of a new gold mine. That gold is now on the fingers of wives and mothers and the impoundment is a geomorphic form awaiting an ice age to move it.
- Heap Leach Pads Working together the mining engineer, the process manager, the metallurgist, and the civil engineer design and operate the heap leach pad. And when the mine is worked out the geotechnical engineer is let to close the pad and get it ready for its long geomorphic history. If the geotech is wise he will team up with a geologist and together they will understand how the landscape come into being, and will try to replicate those processes that promote stability in the area.
- Analysis and Design. The geotechnical engineer is also generally a civil engineer. So go to the site www. icivilengineer. com for information about software, tools, new, and other information that is of interest to the civil and geotechnical engineer and can be used in a mining context.
A final word. If you are a liberal geotechnical engineer and want to travel, look at the Earthworks job site for a long list of opportunities in mining and the earth sciences.
Here is a rare opportunity to employ a most extraordinary person. Normally I do not post resumes or requests for employment on these pages, but this letter is so different and the person behind is so unconventional, that I simply post the letter pretty much as I received it via e-mail [as always I edit for readability and length]. Even if you are not looking to employ anybody, this letter gives a fascinating insight to a unique individual of whom I suspect the mining world will hear more. Here is the letter:
Why Mining Law?
From the onset of law school, mining law has been my primary focus. Growing up in Sudbury and being proud of the city's rich mining history, I realize the massive impact this industry has on the global marketplace. Mining projects peak my interest due to their tremendous opportunity for growth and international development. It is my goal to effectively represent mining interests abroad no matter which barriers are inevitably present.
What I seek:
I am looking for a position that would enable me to use my skills to clearly benefit a mining company's interests. As a potential prospect I can unequivocally state that I would fully represent my employer's interest with the highest regard for their particular values and objectives. I have no experience working for a major mining company, and so calling the shots "right off the bat" is not part of my itinerary. What I do seek is a good teacher--the quickest way to learn.
A brief history:
My name is Jacob Gauthier. I am 25 years old and married. I was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. I am a graduate of the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Français), and I have just received my call to the bar.
What are my skills?
A good friend once told me that the first time we met I was his best friend in a matter of minutes. This is an excellent character trait, and to mix that with competitive business skills creates the ultimate key to success. I can make a prospective client feel comfortable, and that's what's important. I'm at my best connecting with people and expanding my network. I feel that I'm a born negotiator with a strong legal background. I treat every prospective client with a sense of decency and respect and I want the client to know that I've used all my requisite skill and knowledge to make sure that they are fully protected. My goal is to build strong client trust and reduce fear by being prepared and demonstrating competence. I won't ever promise the moon and not deliver; it's not a good strategy.
I am motivated to get wider exposure. Learning about the industry is one thing but it only gets you so far. The best way to continue learning is to experience things first hand. If you would like to reply to this letter please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Jacob M. Gauthier
Delta Mine Training
In Alaska you can learn more about mining by attending classes put on by the Delta Mine Training Center. While I am not sure the hard hats add anything, there is no doubt their faculty are miners - they just look like the people I have known and now know on mines.
I could not actually work out when you can attend their classes. Almost all are tagged TBA (to be announced?). But presumably if you want instruction in Basic Prospecting, Rock and Mineral Identification, Placer Mining, or an MSHA 40-hour refresher, they will assist you in finding a suitable time.
I could not get to their course notes via their website, but Google got me there via this link. I rather enjoyed reading about Exploration Geology, Igneous Rocks, Claim Staking, etc. Hope you do too. I did not take the appended exams though. Maybe next time.
This is an unabashed tribute to a man I liked and admired. He died many years ago and I have lost track of his spouse. He had children whom I never met. I trust they will forgive me for posting this without their agreement. I find nothing about him on the internet although his name is shared with many who post their comings and goings.
Larry Selby was a cost estimator. That is all he did. And he earned large sums doing so. He was in constant demand from companies bidding jobs, through companies trying to complete jobs within budget.
He never rushed or could be rushed. A slow and deliberate pace was all we could ever get out of him. He was generally late with his estimates, but never once that I know of were they ever proven wrong. He had a small portable computer that he had programmed with codes none of us could work. And deep in his computer were databases that he was always happy to share with us, but which never seemed to work for us as they worked for him.
I once asked him the secret of his success in always getting the right cost estimate. He replied that he never trusted any rate from any book, but always built up the cost from first principles. He said that because of his advanced age, he had been involved in almost ever type and facet of construction and had seen every operation from taking the shovel off the shelf to spreading the last bag of reclamation seed. He knew how long it took to take the shovel down, clean it, turn it over, and plunge it into the earth. He knew how long it took to pick up the bag, cut it open, dip into the seeds, and sow them downslope. With detailed information on the cost of the shovel and the bag of seed plus the labor rates he would tell you what your reclamation cost would be. And as I said, he was always right.
Once he estimated $35 million as the cost of cleaning up a radioactively contaminated site. The client went into meltdown. The locals accused him of inflating the price to promote a partisan point of view. The regulators scoffed and sarcastically remarked on the non-credibility of consultants. He smiled, refused to change his number, and we wondered of to have a drink, while the assembled critics ranted and raved. Peer review was obviously called for. The experts were brought in from Tennessee. Two years later they issued their report: Larry was right and they apologized for the delay in issuing their final report, for they had gotten the cost wrong the first time and only after meeting for a week with Larry had they seen the errors they made initially.
I most enjoyed the time we worked together to estimate the probable cost of a project. The client was managing a number of similar projects and they knew from experience that the budget of some over-ran and some under-ran. Their standard approach is to put together probability cost estimates. We sat for a few days looking at every cost category, opining on the probability of the cost going up or down from that estimated in a deterministic fashion. Then we fed this information into a computer which played the Monte Carlo simulation game and came up with probability curves. Wow. The cost could go to astronomical heights if everything went wrong. But maybe, with a very small probability, the cost would be very low. So we went away and worked diligently to capture the low cost scenario. The project came in under budget, although we were told another of the client's projects went over budget so it all evened out in the end.
I met him when he was old and he got older over the many happy years we worked together. He had retired before I met him. But worked full-time after retirement doing cost estimating. Before that he had managed construction companies all over the southwest and brought up a family. He was wise in human behavior and brought equanimity to our family when we replicated a crisis he had survived in the distant past. And his advice was sound as the passage of years has proven. I owe him lots; more than this piece; but that all I can do for now. Thanks Larry.
The mining industry is so broad and big that you can choose any course you decide on. The trick is to be ruthless about accepting offers of employment and moving on once you have learnt all there is to learn from the job. My metric is this: a talented young man should change jobs every two years for at least the first ten years, then you should stay at least ten years in each job thereafter. At any rate that is what I have done and what those in the mining industry that I know who are happy have done.
Do not get too worried about being rounded or about knowing about everything in the mining industry. There is simply too much-too much for any one person in one lifetime. At your age, you have to decide where to focus. Of course you will do things by the time you are 60 that you cannot envisage now, but you cannot do everything to be done between now and then.
Ultimately it is about fun - the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if you will. If you are not having fun, move on. Life is too short to plunge into the tailings pool of a basement and get stuck there.
Learn to trust your gut instincts. If it does not feel right, don't do it. If you like and respect the people you work with, stick with them. If you judge them stupid, crass, overbearing, or whatever, leave them and seek other mentors. There are many fools and arrogant idiots in mining. Do not bide them. Get the hell out as fast as you can. There are plenty of great people in mining-seek them out and learn from them.
One warning however: genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You have to knuckle down at some things, become the expert, fly above the common herd, and excel. Not always easy to have the patience or fortitude. But again if you gut tells you it is the right thing and it is fun, persist.
Next is the fact that whatever you study will be irrelevant as you grow in your area of expertise. Things change too fast for your study topics to remain significant as you progress. All you need learn is how to study, how to learn, how to deal with the new and unfamiliar, and how to solve problems we cannot dream of when we are young.
Face the fact that you will fail at somethings. You will probably get fired or laid off. The economy will crash and there will be no work of the type you can do. When this happens, and it will, do not despair. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go do whatever there is to be done and what needs to be done. Move 400 miles if necessary; not once but as many times as it takes.
So to the fellow who started this cogitation in the comment repeated above, in summary I say: study, learn, change, adapt, travel, experiment, fit-in, and do not fear failure. The world is yours. It will be no better and no worse than times past. But try to make it better through mining honestly, responsibly, ethically, and yes, even sustainably. Good luck.
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