June/July 2007

Exporting Canadian mining expertise around the globe

By H. Eve Robinson

Canada’s experienced workforce in the minerals industry is well respected and internationally recognized. Many Canadian companies currently send geoscience professionals to countries around the world, where their expertise has become a hot commodity. Globalization of the minerals industry has mobilized the mining workforce from a variety of countries such as Australia, Britain, and New Zealand. Canada’s mining talent remains in high demand. In looking at some of the factors that have led to Canada’s international success, we can identify how to maintain a competitive edge as the demand for mineral resources and trained professionals continues to grow.

Canadian companies have built up expertise in the mining sector through experience and progressive mining or exploration. “Canadians are acquainted with high technology and are open to innovations,” explained Hani Mitri, the director of mining at McGill University and a professor in the Department of Mining, Metals, and Materials Engineering. “We use advanced exploration techniques and develop modern extraction and mining methods. We are also leaders in environmental waste management, and maintain awareness of sustainable developments.”

The importance of investment also plays a role in nurturing this expertise. Canada has one of the largest markets for resource properties. Companies all over the world are looking to be listed in the Canadian marketplace on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Regulations require a certain amount of due diligence, which supports the use of local qualified professionals. “We are a resource-rich country with the technology, professional work ethics, and political stability to attract big investors,” Mitri stated.

Canada’s geological and geographical diversity have provided the training grounds for a well-experienced workforce. “People get different training and education depending on the needs of the local market,” said Mitri. Universities tend to focus mining education on relevant areas of the industry, which varies depending on location. For example, on the east coast of the United States, there are more coal resources and, as a result, professionals trained in this region are specialized in underground coal mining. In much of Canada, there is a great emphasis on metal mining and exploration, which happens to have a large global market.

There is an increased demand for metals worldwide. Industrialization of countries such as China and India has led to more development, which requires mineral resources. These countries play a significant role in increasing the demand for global mining. Consulting companies offering geological and engineering expertise, such as Watts, Griffis and McOuat (WGM), have operated in as many as 120 to 130 countries.

“As an international consulting firm, we send people to all parts of the world. Canadians are very well respected and are often specifically sought after,” said Joe Hinzer, president of WGM. The global demand has resulted in a mobile workforce of experts, who are able to lend their already streamlined procedures and methods to clients seeking to develop mines. This can result in more efficient projects, beginning at the initial phases.

“Some of the most rewarding projects have been where we helped local governments to establish infrastructure development,” explained Hinzer. “We were able to set up appropriate mining regulations, operations, land claim ownership, and tracking procedures.” An example of this was in Saudi Arabia, where WGM worked closely with local clients to database the country’s metal resources, recruit personnel, and smoothly manage development.

Other countries with developed minerals industries are similarly sending people all over the world. Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and South Africa are also major exporters of mining expertise. However, not all countries with mining industries can compete on a global scale. “There are other countries with good mining expertise, such as Russia,” said Jon Baird, managing director of the Canadian Association of Mining Equipment and Services for Export (CAMESE). “Russia has no shortage of mining specialists, but they have been working for decades in a system that is not efficient. In comparison, Western Europe is highly developed, but does not have a strong mining industry. These countries lack the highly experienced labour pools to send people around the world doing [mining] contracts.”

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