So you want to be a miner?
First published in jobpostings magazine
careers. education. ideas. all of it.
Michelle Hampson and Kiera Obbard
Rocky challenges and adventures
Travelling to places like Russia, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Brazil, and Nevada isn’t common place for most people, but Stephen Ball has been to them all, thanks to his job.
He came across the mining industry “by fluke” while talking to an administrator of the mining program at the British Columbia Institute for Technology. “I just sort of gravitated towards (the mining industry),” says Ball. It was “the allure of this whole other world that I wasn’t aware of.”
After completing a technical diploma in mining from BCIT, Ball studied mining engineering at the University of Montana. Since his graduation in 2005, the Calgary native has worked in six countries over the past seven years.
While mining is a global industry that involves serious opportunities for overseas adventures, some jobs within the sector offer more travel time than others. Ball’s excessively stamped passport proves that mining engineers get their fair share of globetrotting.
James Leader, an instructor of the Mining and Mineral Exploration Program at BCIT, says junior engineers are generally more likely to be assigned overseas for a long period of time, compared to senior engineers.
The lifestyle they experience depends on how well-established or large the mine site is, but the majority of the time mines are in very remote places with few luxuries. Geologists also have travel opportunities, but they are more likely work on exploration projects that require shorter trips. Lifestyle-wise, geologists are more likely to be working in a camp-setting during an exploration.
For both roles, “The challenges can be numerous, from fighting off nasty animals that bite, all the way through to the frustrations of trying to work in a foreign culture, where things don’t work and get done quite the same as in North America or European, ” says Leader.
However, the challenges of working and travelling in the mining industry are also the perks. While adjusting to new cultures can be difficult, it can also be a rewarding experience. “For me the opportunity to go all over the world has been a great experience that I wouldn’t change for anything,” says Ball.
Those in the mining industry often spend large amounts of time, about six weeks straight, working at the mine site. This is followed by a several weeks off, when you can choose to fly home or stay in the area and make it a vacation. Companies will often pay some of your expenses during this time off too. Exploration geologists may spend most of their time working, but can often linger and explore the region after their work is done.
And unlike most other industries, you get to the exciting part fast. Many mining companies have programs to give recent graduates travel experience right away. For example, Kinross Gold Corporation has New Graduate and Student Job programs, including one called Generation Gold. Every year, ten recent graduates are admitted to the four-year program that puts them at a different location each year.
“We’ve got people in the desert of Africa to a high-altitude mine at 55,000 metres in Chile and far east Russia,” says Colleen Gillis, manager of Global University Affairs at Kinross. “The program allows students to get on-the-job training. It allows you to learn new languages, and get very specific mentorships from people in those locations.”
She says Kinross looks for people who are adaptable, flexible, and involved in their community. Some previous work experience, such as summer exploration projects, co-op experience, or internships are important as well.
Working at several mine sites around the world can really boost your career too. Ball, who has been managing mines for the past two years, took an engineering professional development course to demonstrate that he’s keeping up with the industry. “What it really boils down to is: what are your experiences and what kind of situations have you been involved with? I’ve been quite lucky to be involved in some world class projects around the world. Those experiences are what employers really look at,” he says.
And of course, travelling on its own is a pretty big perk. FYI, Ball recommends Brazil, the weather is more agreeable than Russia.