Bernice Walker, president/CEO of Corona College, speaks to the first graduating class of hard rock miners.
It was December 2005 when Bernice Walker, the diminutive but dynamic president and CEO of Corona College, sat down with representatives of Aur Resources Inc. to cement a partnership for training students in hard rock mining.
Walker had earlier learned through a media report that Aur Resources was beginning to develop a new mine at Duck Pond, in a remote area near Millertown in central Newfoundland, and she recognized an opportunity to meet the company’s need for trained, skilled workers.
“I didn’t have a clue about mining, and hard rock meant nothing to me at the time,” she said recently. “But after 20 years of being in the education field, I did identify an opportunity to train a portion of our labour force and keep them in the province, employed in a career that was meaningful to themselves and their families.”
Walker began to utilize her staff and the Internet to identify job opportunities, and was surprised to learn that the mining industry forecasted a need for more than 80,000 new personnel over the next decade. She also learned that mining and exploration in Newfoundland and Labrador were at an all-time high.
Armed with this information, she contacted Duck Pond mine manager Guy Belleau and his safety supervisor, Harold Heath. The initial contact led to several meetings and more discussion about content and the needs for safety-related modules in a core program. In the final analysis they developed a 16-week program that included both classroom education at the college campus in Grand Falls-Windsor, and onsite training at the mine.
The program was submitted to the Department of Education for approval, a qualified instructor was located, and the program got underway in December 2005, with a first class of 12 students.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Belleau. “It was new for us as well, and we had some concerns about whether the program would be successful. But we were all pleasantly surprised. The students were eager to learn, well-trained, and safety conscious. They integrated with our other staff and were a joy to have at the mine site. They were treated with respect and as equals by our workers.”
The program was so good that the first class was followed by two more, and a fourth began this February. Students have found work at Duck Pond mine and Petro Drilling within the province, and at sites across Canada, including Voisey’s Bay in Labrador, Dynatec, and mines in northern Ontario.
More recently, at the CIM Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Walker was chatting with Garfield MacVeigh, chairman of the board of Rubicon Minerals, who suggested there was a huge need for diamond drillers across Canada.
She wasted no time in locating drilling companies with operations in the province, and was soon conversing with Cabo Drilling Corporation, Canada’s third largest mineral drilling company, and their Newfoundland subsidiary, Petro Drilling, located in the small community of Springdale.
Within a matter of days she had entered into a partnership with them to develop and teach a program in diamond drilling at the college, with onsite training included.
Their new arrangement was announced during the one-year anniversary celebrations of the Corona College - Aur Resources partnership, held at the campus in mid-December. Media coverage of the event generated enormous interest across the province, and it now appears there will be enough enrolment for a fifth hard rock mining class to begin in late spring or early summer. The diamond drilling program already has enough interested students to make up half a class, and they are ready to enrol.
What’s next for mining education at Corona College? A program for mill operators is in the final stage of approval with the Department of Education, and a surface mining program is nearly ready for processing. These programs will meet growing needs of the province’s mining sector.
“I take pride in the fact that we are the leading educational institution in this province, perhaps in the Atlantic region, to offer these programs for the mining sector. We have recognized the industry’s needs and are working diligently to meet those needs through training,” said Walker.
“Our goal is to stem the outmigration of workers who are attracted by the lure of jobs in the Alberta oil sector. We want to keep our skilled workers here in this province, where they can enjoy a lifestyle and reasonable income, relative to their level of knowledge. The mining sector can provide that for them. We project a great future in mining activity and are doing our part to train our people for these very important jobs.”