August 2008

Student Life

Partnership: it’s what students want

By M. Fuller

At the recent CIM Conference and Exhibition in Edmonton, I presented a focus on student perspectives in the Student-Industry Partnership session. This presentation covered a number of examples from the University of British Columbia of engaging partnerships that can be created between the mining industry and universities, and presented the results of a nationwide survey of mining engineering students about factors they look for when choosing employment.

Examples of partnerships

The importance of reaching out to universities cannot be overstated. By becoming involved with future engineers while they are still students, a company can create a positive and long-lasting imprint on them.  The partnership is simultaneously altruistic and self-serving, because in addition to benefiting students, it improves the quality of students entering the industry and the future health of the Canadian mining sector. Partnerships come in various shapes and depths, and I have categorized them into events, recruitment and connections, and opportunities. 

Events: Each February, about 150 of Canada’s keenest senior mining engineering students gather to compete in the annual Mining Games, which pits students from each of the country’s ten mining universities against one another in academic and hands-on events.  Sponsoring a team, or the games themselves, is an excellent way to gain exposure to a significant portion of the best and brightest students — many of whom will graduate shortly.

Another way to partner for events is to invite a university class to tour your mine. Seeing a real mine in operation is vital in augmenting the classroom education.

Recruitment and connections: Come to career fairs and host information sessions to raise awareness about your company and its summer/full-time opportunities. However, please, do not send HR staff alone; technical personnel are appreciated, especially those who supervise young engineers.  Of course, as many of us are on very tight budgets, free food will entice many to attend. Though, if I may add, even students can have their fill of pizza.

The most useful partnerships are “connections” such as participating in an industry advisory committee (IAC) at the university. This gives your company input into the curriculum and decisions reached by a school, resulting in a more relevant education for students and, consequently, more employable students and graduates. At UBC, we couple one of these IAC meetings with an alumni dinner, providing an extended networking opportunity between students and alumni.

Opportunities: This category consists of work terms and scholarships. Work terms provide an opportunity for ‘extended interviews’ with multiple students who will return to university and speak about the great experiences they had. Scholarships help encourage students to enter and continue within the mining disciplines. Holistically administered, along with guaranteed work terms, scholarships can go a long way in encouraging capable young students. This “sponsorship” approach is a successful model for finding, attracting and developing young talent for your organization.

Recruitment survey

This survey was inspired by UBC’s hosting of the Mining Games this past February and encouraged by industry after hearing qualitative feedback about what students look for when selecting work terms and full-time positions.  The results of this survey are unique and significant, because it is the first survey of its kind ever conducted, reaching about 20 per cent of Canada’s mining engineering students.

Following are some highlights, based on a combination of the quantitative data and my own perceptions. Many of the students’ inclinations are aligned with what industry is providing, but some definite gaps exist.

Who was surveyed: Students from ten universities were surveyed. There were 185 respondents and 22 per cent of them were female. Equal responses from all years were received and 26 per cent were in their graduating year. The most responsive schools were McGill University, UBC, Laurentian University and Queen’s University.

Work sought: Students and new graduates are interested in a variety of roles, but there are many seeking production and hands-on experience or supervisory managerial roles. More opportunities along these lines should be provided for work terms and within engineer-in-training programs.

Accommodation: Help finding accommodation or providing accommodations for temporary students on work terms is especially appealing.

Location and schedule: There is a strong preference for fly-in/fly-out work or jobs based out of major communities. Mines in remote, small communities may consider offering rotation-based positions to attract younger engineers. For residentially based schedules, students and new graduates strongly prefer the “four tens” schedule (four ten-hour days on/three days off) versus the traditional five-day work week.

Compensation: All respondents gave input about a number of factors. The booming industry and skills shortage is leading to consistent, excessive working hours, and young engineers are demanding fair compensation for overtime worked, whether in pay or with flexible days off. Rotation-based schedules are also attractive as they allow a better work-life balance.

Graduating students also gave input on numerous compensation factors.  Assistance for continuing education was valued higher than a signing bonus or stock options and was seen as an indication of a company’s willingness to invest in their employees.

Salary: The majority of graduating students expect starting salaries to be in the range of $60,000 to $70,000 per year; however, internationally competitive salaries are important, because many young graduates are easily able and willing to relocate (to Australia, for example).

Corporate culture: All respondents gave input about the importance of various corporate culture factors. The three top factors were:  safety, engineer-in-training programs and responsible employer (environmental and social).

The results of this survey were truly revealing. They lend credence to the qualitative statements I have been hearing from co-workers and peers throughout my academic and industry experience. I hope that this article will strengthen connections between universities and the mining industry, mutually benefiting both.

Michael Fuller is a recently graduated mining engineer from UBC. He has worked at Highland Valley Copper, De Beers’ Snap Lake and First Quantum’s Kansanshi mine in Zambia. During his final year at UBC, he served as the student representative to the Industry Advisory Committee. In September, he’ll begin work for Xstrata Nickel Australasia..

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