First batch of mining grads headed underground

A new program at Yukon College turned out its first batch of mine workers on Friday. Ten students graduated of the college’s 44-day Intro to Mining Operations program, many walking out of the classroom and straight into jobs.

A new program at Yukon College turned out its first batch of mine workers on Friday.

Ten students graduated from the college’s 44-day Intro to Mining Operations program, many walking out of the classroom and straight into jobs.

The new mining recruits are the first in what the college and the Yukon government hope will become a steady stream of graduates to help fill a shortage in skilled labour that is expected to increase in coming years.

At the graduation ceremony in the college’s cavernous heavy equipment bay, Education Minister Scott Kent pointed to last week’s federal budget and its focus on increasing training opportunities for tradespeople in the territory.

Yukon’s mining industry is expected to grow over the coming years. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s territorial outlook for 2013, new sites like the Eagle Gold project near Mayo and the Mactung tungsten mine on the Yukon/N.W.T. border will help contribute to an estimated high of 2,400 jobs in the next 10 to 15 years.

“We’re more than happy to have homegrown Yukoners working in those mines,” Kent said.

The students weren’t just sitting in a classroom for 44 days. They also did a two-week job site placement, which gave them experience with a number of important mining skills, everything from heavy machine operation to computer inventory control and underground drilling.

Mark O’Shea-Ferrero did his two-week placement at the Wolverine mine with a subcontractor, Procon, doing everything from underground construction to drilling and pipefitting.

“I liked working on the construction crew. I’ve always done construction so it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” he said.

Working underground was a lot of fun, he said, but it wasn’t his first time in the earth’s bowels.

“I’ve been cave diving since I was a little kid. I used to always explore the old mines in my hometown of Harrison Hot Springs, B.C.,” he said.

O’Shea-Ferrero said he’s already had a job offer from Procon, and will be starting sometime in the next two weeks.

James Hoy and Justin Magill both did their placements at Alexco’s Bellekeno mine in Keno. At the graduation, they had their bags packed and were ready to head out to the job site as soon as the ceremony – and the barbecued burgers – were done.

The Intro to Mining program is part of the college’s larger Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, said Paul Flaherty, chair of the Yukon College Board.

The centre got a nod in last week’s federal budget. While no dollar figure has been committed yet, Flaherty said he expects the support to be close to the $30 million proposal the college put together in consultation with industry and Yukon First Nations.

“Together, they have been advising us on where we need to go in terms of providing future opportunities for mining,” Flaherty said.

That will likely involve building some new facilities at the college’s Whitehorse campus, but Flaherty said it’s too early to say exactly what those buildings might look like.

“As we bring in more programs and students, obviously we’re going to need space for that, so I think you will see some building over time,” he said.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com

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